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Selections from ijcr OIoiTCSponlience, 






9l7i Edition. Post Svo. 9s. 1858. 

PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY. 6i!7i. Eclilion. Post Svo. 9s. 

Post Svo. 21s. 1869. 










THE THEATRES OF THE TIME . . . . . . .41 





RIAGE t , 















» . * • 























brother's death — NAPLES — ERUPTION OF VESU^aUS — J. S. 









The life of a woman entirely devoted to her family 
duties and to scientific pm'suits affords little scope for a 
biography. There are in it neither stirring events nor 
brilliant deeds to record ; and as my Mother was strongly 
aver,se to gossip, and to revelations of private life or of 
intimate correspondence, nothing of the land will be found 
in the following pages. It has been only after very great 
hesitation, and on the recommendation of valued friends, 
who thualv that some account of so remarkable and 
beautiful a character cannot fail to interest the public, 
that I have resolved to publish some detached EecoUec- 
tions of past times, noted down by my mother during the 
last years of her life, together with a few letters from 
eminent men and women, referring almost exclusively to 
her scientific works. A still smaller number of her own 
letters liave been added, either as illustrating her 


Mary Somerville. 

opinions on events slie witnessed, or else as affording 
some slight idea of her simple and loving disposition. 

Few thoughtful minds will read without emotion m}-- 
mother's own account of the wonderful energy and in- 
domitable perseverance by which, in her ardent thirst for 
laiowledge, she overcame obstacles apparently insur- 
mountable, at a time when women were well-nigh totallj^ 
debarred from education ; and the almost intuitive waj'^ in 
which she entered upon studies of which she had scai'cely 
heard the names, living, as she did, among persons to 
whom they were utterly unknown, and who disapproved 
of her devotion to pursuits so different from those of 
ordinary young girls at the end of the last centmy, 
especially in Scotland, which was far more old-fashioned 
and primitive than England. 

Nor is her simple account of her early days without 
interest, when, as a lonely child, she wandered by the 
seashore, and on the links of Burntisland, collecting 
shells and flowers ; or spent the clear, cold nights at her 
window, watching the starlit heavens, whose mysteries 
she was destined one day to penetrate in all their pro- 
found and sublime laws, making clear to others that 
knowledge which she herseK had acquii-ed, at the cost of 
so hard a struggle. 

It was not only in her childhood and youth that my 
mother's studies encountered disapproval. Not till she 
became a widow, had she perfect freedom to pui-sue them. 
The fii-st person — indeed the only one in her early days — 
who encoui-aged her passion for learning was her uncle 
by marriage, afterwards her father-in-law, the Eev. Dr. 
Somerville, minister of Jedburgh, a man very much in 
advance of liis centmy in liberality of thought on all 
subjects. He was one of the first to discern her rare 



qualities, and valued lier as she deserved ; while through 
life she retained the most grateful affection for him, and 
confided to him many doubts and difficulties on subjects 
of the highest importance. Nothing can be more 
eiToneous than the statement, repeated in several 
obituary notices of mj'^ mother, that Mr. Greig (her first 
husband) aided her in her mathematical and other pur- 
suits. Nearly the contrary was the case. Mr. Greig 
took no interest in science or hterature, and possessed 
in full the prejudice against learned women which was 
common at that time. Only on her marriage with 
my father, my mother at last met with one who 
entu-ely sjanpatliised with her, and warmly entered into 
aU. her ideas, encouraging her zeal for study to the 
utmost, and affording her everj^ facility for it in his 
power. His love and admiration for her were unbounded; 
he franldy and wilhngly aclaiowledged her superiority to 
himself, and many of our friends can bear witness to the 
honest pride and gratification which he always testified 
in the fame and honours she attained. 

No one can escape sorrow, and my mother, in the 
com'se of her long life, had her full share, but she bore 
it with that deep feeling of trust in the great goodness 
of God which formed so marked a feature m her cha- 
racter. She had a buoyant and hopeful spirit, and though 
her affections were very strong, and she felt keenly, 
it was ever her nature to turn from the shadows to all 
that is bright and beautiful in mortal life. She had much 
to make Hfe pleasant in the great honours universally 
bestowed upon her ; but she found far more in the de- 
voted affection of friends, to say nothing of those whose 
hapi^y lot it has been to live in close and loving inter- 
course with so noble and gentle a spirit. 

B 2 


Mary Somerville. 

Slie met witli unbounded kindness from men of science 
of all countries, and most profound was her gi-atitude to 
them. Modest and unjiretending to excess, nothing 
could be more generous than the mifeigned delight she 
shewed in recognising the genius and discoveries of others; 
ever jealous of their fame, and never of her own. 

It is not uncommon to see persons who hold in j^outh 
opinions m advance of the age in which thej'- live, but wha 
at a certain period seem to crystallise, and lose the facultj^ 
of comprehending and accepting new ideas and theories ; 
thus remauiing at last as far behind, as thej^ were once 
in advance of public opinion. Not so my mother, wha 
was ever ready to hail joyfullj'- any new idea or theorj', 
and to give it honest attention, even if it were at variance 
with her former convictions. This quality she never lost, 
and it enabled her to sympathise mth the yoimger gene- 
ration of philosopher's, as she had done with their pre- 
decessors, her own contemporaries. 

Altliough her favourite pursuit, and the one for which 
she had decidedly most aptitude, was mathematics ; j^et 
there were few subjects in which she did not take in- 
terest, whether in science or literature, philosophy or 
politics. She was passionately fond of poetry, her es- 
pecial favourites being Shakespeare and Dante, and 
also the great Greek dramatists, Avliose tragedies she 
read fluently in the original, being a good classical 
scholar. She was very fond of music, and devoted much 
time to it in her j-outh, and she painted from nature with 
considerable taste. The latter was, perhaps, tlie recrea- 
tion in wliich she most delighted, from the opportunity 
it aftbrded her of contemplatmg the wonderful beauty 
of the world, which was a never-failing source of in- 
tense enjoyment to her, whether she watched the 



<;lianeins; effects of liglit and shade on lier favourite 
Eoman Campagna, or gazed, enchanted, on tlie gorgeous 
sunsets on the bay of Naples, as she witnessed them from 
her much-loved Sorrento, where she passed the last 
summers of her life. All things fair were a joy to her — 
the flowers we brought her from our rambles, the sea- 
weeds, the wild birds she saw, all interested and pleased 
her. Everything in nature spoke to her of that great 
•God who created all things, the grand and sublimely 
beautiful as well as the exquisite loveliness of minute 
objects. Above all, in the laws which science unveils 
step by step, she found ever renewed motives for the love 
iind adoration of their* Author and Sustainer. This fer- 
vour of religious feehng accompanied her through life, 
and very early she shook off all that Avas dark and narrow 
in the creed of her fii'st instructors for a purer and 
a happier faith. 

It would be almost incredible were I to describe how 
much my mother contrived to do in the course of the daj''. 
When my sister and I were small childi"en, although 
busily engaged in writing for the press, she used to teach 
us for three hours every morning, besides managing 
her house carefully, reading the newspapers (for she 
.always was a keen, and, I must add, a liberal politician), 
and the most important new books on all subjects, grave 
and ga}'. In addition to all this, she freely visited and re- 
ceived her friends. She was, indeed, very fond of society, 
and did not look for transcendent talentin those with whom 
she associated, although no one appreciated it more when 
she found it. Gay and cheerful company was a pleasant 
relaxation after a hard day's work. My mother never 
introduced scientific or learned subjects into general 
conversation. AVhen they were brought forward by 


Maiy Somerville. 

others, she tallved simply and naturalty about them, 
without the sHghtest pretension to superior Imowledge. 
Finally, to complete the list of her accompUshments, 
I must add that she was a remarkably neat and skilful 
needlewoman. We still possess some elaborate specimens 
of her embroidery and lace-work. 

Devoted and loving in all the relations of life, my 
mother was ever forgetful of self. Indulgent and sym- 
pathising, she never judged others with harshness or 
severity ; yet she could be ver}' angry when her in- 
dignation was aroused by hearing of injustice or oppres- 
sion, of cruelty to man or beast, or of any attack on 
those she loved. Rather timid and reth'ing in general 
society, she was otherwise fearless in her quiet wa3\ I 
Avell remember her cool composure on some occasions 
when we were in great danger. This she inherited from 
her father, Admu-al Sir William Fau-fax, a gallant gentle- 
man who distinguished himself gi'eatly at the battle of 

My mother speaks of him as follows among her 
" Recollections," of which I now proceed to place some 
portions before the reader. 

* Sir William Fairfax was the son of Joseph Fairfax, Esq., of Bag- 
shot, in the county of Surrey, who died in 1783, aged 77, having served 
in the army previous to 1745. It is understood that his family was de- 
scended from the Fairfaxes of Walton, in Yorkshire, the main branch 
of which were created Viscounts Fairfax of Emly, in the peerage of 
Ireland (now extinct), and a younger branch Barons Fairfax of 
Cameron, in the peerage of Scotland. Of the last-named was the great 
Lord Fairfax, Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the Parliament, 
1645—50, Avhose title is now held by the eleventh Lord Fairfax, a resi- 
dent in the United States of America. 

Admiral Fairfax. 


My father was very good looldng, of a brave and 
noble nature, and a perfect gentleman both, in ap- 
pearance and character. He was sent to sea as 
midshipman at ten years of age, so he had very 
little education ; but he read a great deal, chiefly 
history and voyages. He was very cool, and of 
instant resource in moments of danger. 

One night, when his little vessel had taken 
refuge with many others from an intensely violent 
gale and drifting snow in Yarmouth Eoads, they 
saw lights disappear, as vessel after vessel foundered. 
j\Iy father, after having done all that was possible 
for the safety of the ship, went to bed. His cabin 
door did not shut closely, from the rolling of the 
ship, and the man who was sentry that night told 
my mother years afterwards, that when he saw 
my father on his knees praying, he thought it 
would soon be all over with them : then seeins; 
him go to bed and fall asleep, he felt no more 
fear. In the morning the coast was strewed with 
wrecks. There were no life-boats in those days ; 
now the lives of hundreds are annually saved by 
the noble self-devotion of British sailors. 

My mother was the daughter of Samuel Charters, 
Solicitor of the Customs for Scotland, and his wife 


Mary Somervilk. 

Christiau Murray, of Kynynmont, wliose eldest sister 
married the great grandfather of the present Earl 
of Minto. My grandmother was exceedingly proud 
and stately. She made her children stand in her pre- 
sence. M.J mother, on the contrary, was indulgent 
and kind, so that her children were perfectly at 
ease with her. She seldom read anything but the 
Bible, sermons, and the newspaper. She was very 
sincere and devout in her religion, and was re- 
markable for good sense and great strength of ex- 
pression in writing and conversation. Though by 
no means pretty, she was exceedmgly distingTiished 
and ladylike both in ajDpearance and manners. 

My father was constantly employed, and twice 
distinguishedhimself by attacking vessels of superior 
force. He captured the first, but was overpowered 
by the second, and being taken to France, re- 
mained two years a prisoner on parole, when he 
met with much kindness from the Choiseul family. 
At last he was exchanged, and afterwards Avas 
appointed lieutenant on board a frigate destined 
for foreign service. I think it was the North 
American station, for the war of Independence was 
not over till the beginning of 1 783. As my mother 
knew that my father would be absent for some years, 
she accompanied him to London, though so near her 
confinement that in returning home she had just 



time to arrive at the manse of Jedburgli, lier sister 
Martha Somerville's^^ house, when I was born, on the 
26th December, 1 780. My mother was dangerously 
ill, and my aunt, who was about to wean her second 
daughter Janet, who married General Henr}- Elliot, 
nursed me till a wetnurse could be found. So I 
was born in the house of my future husband, and 
nm^sed by his mother — a rather singular coinci- 

Dming my father's absence, my mother lived 
with great economy in a house not far from 
Burntisland Avhicli belonged to my grandfather, 
solely occupied with the care of her family, which 
consisted of her eldest son Samuel, four or five years 
old, and myself. One evening while my brother was 
lying at play on the floor, he called out, " 0, mam- 
ma, there's the moon rinnin' awa." It was the 
celebrated meteor of 1783. 

Some time afterwards, for what reason I do not 

know, my father and mother went to live for a 

short time at Inveresk, and thence returned to 

Bmmtisland, our permanent home. 


[This place, in which my mother's eaiij^ life was spent, 
exercised so much influence on her hfe and pursuits, 

* Wife of the Rev. Dr. Thomas Somerville, minister of Jedburgh, 
akeady mentioned (p. 2). Dr. Somerville was author of Histories of 
Queen Anne and of William and Mary, and also of an autobiography. 


Mary Soinerville. 

that I am liappy to be able to give tlie description of it 
in her own -words. 

Burntisland was then a small quiet seaport town 
with little or no commerce, situated on the coast of 
Fife, immediately opposite to EdinlDurgh. It is 
sheltered at some distance on the north by a high 
and steep hill called the Bin. The harbour lies on 
the west, and the town ended on the east in a plain 
of short grass called the Links, on which the to^Tis- 
people had the right of pasturing their cows and 
geese. The Links were bounded on each side by 
low hills covered with gorse and heather, and on 
the east by a beautiful bay with a sandy beach, 
which, beginning at a low rocky point, formed a 
bow and then stretched for several miles to the town 
of Kinghorn, the distant part skirting a range of high 
precipitous crags. 

Our house, which lay to the south of the town, 
was very long, with a southern exposure, and its 
length was increased by a wall covered with fruit- 
trees, which concealed a courtyard, cow-house, and 
other offices. From this the garden extended south- 
wards, and ended in a plot of short grass covering a 
ledo-e of low black rocks washed by the sea. It was 
divided into three parts by narrow, almost unfre- 
quented, lanes. These gardens yielded abundance 



of common fruit and vegetables, but the warmest 
and best exposures were always devoted to flowers. 
The o-arden next to the house Avas bounded on the 
south by an ivy-covered wall hid by a row of old 
elm trees, from whence a steep mossy bank descended 
to a flat plot of grass Avith a gravel walk and flower 
borders on each side, and a broad gravel walk ran 
along the front of the house. My mother was fond 
of flowers, and prided herself on her moss-roses, 
which flom^ished luxuriantly on the front of the 
house ; but my father, though a sailor, was an excel- 
lent florist. He procured the finest bulbs and flower 
seeds from Holland, and kept each kind in a 
separate bed. 

The manners and customs of the people who 
inhabited this pretty spot a,t that time w"ere ex- 
ceedingly primitive. 

Upon the death of any of the townspeople, a 
man Avent about ringing a bell at the doors of the 
friends and acquaintances of the person just dead, and, 
after calling out " Oyez !" three times, he announced 
the death which had occurred. This was still called 
by the name of the Passing-bell, Avhich in Catholic 
times invited the prayers of the living for the 
.spirit just passed away. 

There was much sympathy and kindness shoAvn 
on these occasions ; friends always paid a visit of 


Mary Somerville. 

condolence to the afflicted, dressed in black. The 
gnde wives in Burntisland thought it respectable to 
provide dead-clothes for themselves and the "gude 
man," that they might have a decent funeral. I once 
saw a set of grave-clothes nicely folded up, Avhich 
consisted of a long shirt and cap of white flannel, 
and a shroud of fine linen made of yarn, sj)un by 
the gude wife herself. I did not like that gude wife ; 
she was purse-proud, and took every opportunity of 
treating with scorn a poor neighbour who had had a 
misforiime, that is, a child by Jier husband before 
marriage, but who made a very good wife. Her 
husband Avorked in our garden, and took our cow to 
the Links to graze. The wife kept a little shop, 
where we bouoiit things, and she told us her neio^h- 
bour had given her "mony a sair greet" — that is, a 
bitter fit of weeping. 

The liowdie, or midwife, was a person of much 
consequence. She had often to go far into the 
country, by day and by night, riding a cart-horse. 
The neighbours used to go and congratulate the 
mother, and, of course, to admire the baby. Cake 
and caudle were handed round, caudle being oat- 
meal gruel, with sugar, nutmeg, and white wine. In 
the poorest class, hot ale and " scons " were ofi'ered. 

Penny-weddings were by no means uncommon in 
my young days. When a very poor couple were 


o-oino- to be married, tlie best man, and even tlie 
bridegroom liimself, went from house to house, 
askine: for small sums to enable them to have a 
wedding supper, and pay the town fiddler for a 
dance ; any one was admitted who paid a penny. 
I recollect the prisoners in the Tolbooth letting 
down bags from the prison windows, begging for 
charity. I do not remember any execution taking 

Men and old women of the lower classes smoked 
tobacco in short pipes, and many took snufi" — even 
young ladies must have done so ; for I have a very 
pretty and quaint gold snuff-box which was given to 
my grandmother as a marriage present. Licensed beg- 
gars, called " gaberlunzie men," were still common. 
They wore a blue coat, with a tin badge, and Avan- 
dered about the country, knew all that was going 
on, and were always welcome at the farm-houses, 
where the gude wife liked to have a crack (gossip) 
Avith the blue coat, and, in return for his news, gave 
him dinner or supper, as might be. Edie Ochiltree 
is a perfect specimen of this extinct race. There 
was another species of beggar, of yet higher an- 
tiquity. If a man were a cripple, and poor, his 
relations put him in a hand-barrow, and wheeled 
him to their next ncighl^our's door, and left him 
there. Some one came out, gave him oat-cake 


Mary Soinerville. 

or peasemeal bannock, and then wheeled him to the 
next door ; and in this way, going from house to 
house, he obtained a fair livelihood. 

My brother Sam lived with our grandfather in 
Edinburgh, and attended the High School, which 
was in the old town, and, like other boys, he was 
given pennies to buy bread ; but the boys preferred 
oysters, which they bought from the fishwives, the 
bargain being, a dozen oysters for a halfpenny, and 
a kiss for the thirteenth. These fishwives and their 
husbands were industrious, hard-working people, 
forming a community of their own in the village of 
Newliaven, close to the sea, and about two miles 
from Edinburgh. The men were exposed to cold, 
and often to danger, in their small boats, not always 
well-built nor fitted for our stormy Firth. The 
women helped to land and prepare the fi^h when 
the boats came in, carried it to town for sale in the 
early morning, kept the purse, managed the house, 
brought up the children, and j)rovided food and 
clothing for all. Many were rich, lived well, and 
sometimes had dances. Many of the young women 
were pretty, and all wore — and, I am told, still wear 
— a bright-colom-ed, picturesque costume. Some 
young men, amongst others a cousin of my own, 
who attempted to intrude into one of these balls, 
got pelted with fish ofilil by the women. The village 



smelt strongly of fish, certainly ; yet the people 
were very clean personally. I recollect their 
keeping tame gulls, which they fed with fish offal. 

Although there was no individual enmity between 
the boys of the old and of the new or aristocratic 
part of Edinburgh, there were frequent battles, called 
" bickers," between them, in which they pelted each 
other with stones. Sometimes they were joined by 
bigger lads, and then the fight became so serious 
that the magistrates sent the city guard — a set of 
old men with halberds and a quaint uniform — to 
separate them ; but no sooner did the guard appear, 
than both parties joined against them. 

Strings of wild geese were common in autumn, 
and I was amused on one occasion to see the clumsy 
tame fat geese which were feeding on the Links rise 
in a body and try to follow the wUd ones. 

As the grass on the plot before our house did not 
form a fine even turf, the ground was trenched and 
sown with good seed, but along with the grass a vast 
crop of thistles and groundsel appeared, which at- 
tracted quantities of goldfinches, and in the early 
mornings I have seen as many as sixty to eighty of 
these beautiful birds feeding on it. 

My love of birds has continued through life, for 
only two years ago, in my extreme old age, I lost a 
pet mountain sparrow, which for eight years Avas my 


Mary So7nerville. 

constant companion : sitting on my slioulclcr, peck- 
ing at my papers, and eating out of mj mouth ; and 
I am not ashamed to say I felt its accidental 
death very much. 

Before the grass came up on this plot of ground^ 
its surface in the evening swarmed with earthworms, 
which instantly shrank into their holes on the ap- 
proach of a foot. My aunt Janet, who was then 
with us, and afraid even to speak of death, was 
horrified on seeing them, firmly believing that she 
would one day be eaten by them — a very general 
opinion at that time ; few people being then aware 
that the finest mould in our o-ardens and fields 
has passed through the entrails of the earthworm, 
the vegetable juices it contains being sufficient to 
maintain these harmless creatures. 

My mother was very much afraid of thunder and 
lightning. She knew when a storm was near from 
the appearance of the clouds, and prepared for it by 
taking out the steel pins Avhicli fastened her cap on. 
She then sat on a sofa at a distance from the fire- 
place, which had a very high chimney, and read 
difierent parts of the Bible, especially the sublime 
descriptions of storms in the Psalms, which made 
me, who sat close by her, still more afraid. We had 
an excellent and beautiful pointer, called Hero, a 
great favourite, who generally lived in the garden, but 



at the first clap of tliuiider lie used to rusli howling 
in-doors, and place Ms face on my knee. Then my 
father, who laughed not a little at our fear, would 
bring a glass of wine to my mother, and say, " Drink 
that, Peg ; it wiU give you courage, for we are going 
to have a rat-tat-too." My mother would beg him 
to shut the window-shutters, and though she could 
no longer see to read, she kept the Bible on her knee 
for protection. 

My mother taught me to read the Bible, and 
to say my prayers morning and evening ; other- 
wise she allowed me to grow up a wild creature. 
When I was seven or eight years old I began to 
be useful, for I pulled the fruit for preserving; 
shelled the peas and beans, fed the poultry, and 
looked after the dairy, for we kept a cow. 

On one occasion I had put green gooseberries into 
bottles and sent them to the kitchen with orders to 
the cook to boil the bottles uncorked, and, when the 
fruit was sufiB.ciently cooked, to cork and tie up the 
bottles. After a time all the house was alarmed by 
loud explosions and violent screaming in the kitchen ; 
the cook had corked the bottles before she boiled 
them, and of course they exploded. For greater 
preservation, the bottles were always buried in the 
ground ; a number were once found in our garden 
with the fruit in high preservation which had been 


Mary Somerville. 

buried no one knew when. Thus experience is 
sometimes the antecedent of science, for it was little 
suspected at that time that by shutting out the air 
the invisible organic world was excluded — the cause 
of all fermentation and decay. 

I never cared for dolls, and had no one to play 
with me. I amused myself in the garden, which 
was much frequented by birds. I knew most of 
them, their flight and their habits. The swallows 
were never prevented from building above our 
windows, and, when about to migrate, they used to 
assemble in hundreds on the roof of our house, and 
prepared for their journey by short flights. "We fed 
the birds when the ground was covered with snow, 
and opened our windows at breakfast-time to let in 
the robins, who would hop on the table to pick up 
crumbs. The quantity of singing birds was very 
great, for the farmers and gardeners were less cruel 
and avaricious than they are now — though poorer. 
They allowed our pretty songsters to share in the 
bounties of providence. The shortsighted cruelty, 
which is too prevalent now, brings its own punish- 
ment, for, owing to the recldess destruction of birds, 
the equilibrium of nature is disturbed, insects in- 
crease to such an extent as materially to afiect every 
description of crop. This summer (1872), when I 
was at Sorrento, even the olives, grapes, and oranges 

The Catechism. 


were seriously injured by the caterpillars — a dis- 
aster wliicli I entirely attribute to the ruthless 
havoc made among every kind of bird. 


My mother set me in due time to learn the 
catechism of the Kirk of Scotland, and to attend 
the public examinations in the Idrk. This was a 
severe trial for me ; for, besides being timid and 
shy, I had a bad memory, and did not understand 
one word of the catechism. These meetings, which 
began with prayer, were attended by all the chil- 
dren of the town and neighbourhood, with their 
mothers, and a great many old women, who came 
to be edified. They were an acute race, and could 
quote chapter and verse of Scripture as accurately 
as the minister himself. I remember he said to one 
of them — " Peggie, Avhat lightened the world before 
the sun Avas made ? " After thinking for a minute, 
she said — " 'Deed, sir, the question is mair curious 
than edifying." 

Besides these public examinations, the minister 
made an annual visit to each household in his 
parish. When he came to us, the servants were 
called in, and we all knelt while he said a prayer ; 
and then he examined each individual as to the 
state of his soul and conduct. He asked me if I 
could say my "Questions" — that is, the catechism of 

c 2 


Mary Somerville. 

the Kirk of Scotland — and asked a question at 
random to ascertain the fact. He did the same to 
the servants. 

When I was between eight and nine years okl, my 
father came home from sea, and was shocked to find 
me such a savage. I had not yet been taught to 
vmte, and although I amused myself reading the 
"Arabian Nights/' "Robinson Crusoe," and the 
" Pilgrim's Progress," I read very badly, and with a 
strong Scotch accent ; so, besides a chapter of the 
Bible, he made me read a paper of the " Spectator " 
aloud every morning, after breakfast; the conse- 
quence of which disciphne is that I have never since 
opened that book. Hume's " History of England " 
was also a real penance to me. I gladly accompanied 
my father when he cultivated his flowers, which even 
now I can say were of the best quality. The tulips 
and other bulbous plants, ranunculi, anemones, car- 
nations, as well as the annuals then known, were all 
beautiful. He used to root up and throw away 
many plants I thought very beautiful ; he said he 
did so because the colours of their petals were not 
sharply defined, and that they would spoil the 
seed of the others. Thus I learnt to know the 
good and the bad — how to lay carnations, and 
how to distinguish between the leaf and fruit buds 
jn pruning fruit trees ; this kind of knowledge 



was of no practical use, for, as my after-life was 
spent in towns, I never liad a garden, to my great 

George the Tliird was so popular, that even in 
Burntisland nosegays were placed in every window 
on the 4th of June, his birthday ; and it occasionally 
happened that our garden was robbed the preceding 
night of its gayest flowers. 

My father at last said to my mother,—" This kind 
of life will never do, Mary must at least know 
how to write and keep accounts." So at ten years 
old I was sent to a boarding-school, kept by a 
Miss Primrose, at Musselburgh, where I was utterly 
wretched. The change from perfect liberty to per- 
petual restraint was in itself a great trial ; besides, 
being naturally shy and timid, I was afraid of 
strangers, and although Miss Primrose was not 
unkind she had an habitual frown, which even the 
elder girls dreaded. My future companions, who 
were all older than I, came round me like a 
swarm of bees, and asked if my father had a title, 
what was the name of our estate, if we kept 
a carriage, and other such questions, which made 
me first feel the difference of station. However, 
the gii'ls were very kind, and often bathed my 
eyes to prevent our stern mistress from seeing 
that I was perpetually in tears. A few days after 


Mary Somerville. 

my arrival, although perfectly straight and well- 
made, I was enclosed in stiflf stays with a steel 
busk in front, while, above my frock, bands drew 
my shoulders back till the shoulder-blades met. 
Then a steel rod, with a semi-circle which went 
under the chin, was clasped to the steel busk in 
my stays. In this constrained state I, and most 
of the younger girls, had to prepare om^ lessons. 
The chief thing I had to do was to learn by heart 
a page of Johnson's dictionary, not only to spell 
the words, give their parts of speech and meaning, 
but as an exercise of memory to remember their 
order of succession. Besides I had to learn the 
first principles of writing, and the rudiments of 
French and English grammar. The method of 
teaching was extremely tedious and inefficient. 
Our religious duties were attended to in a remark- 
able way. Some of the girls were Presbyterians, 
others belonged to the Church of England, so Miss 
Primrose cut the matter short by taking us all to 
the kirk in the morning and to church in the 

In our play-hours we amused ourselves with 
playing at ball, marbles, and especially at "Scotch 
and English," a game which represented a raid on 
the debatable land, or Border between Scotland and 
England, in Avhich each pnrty tried to rob the 



other of their playthings. The little ones were 
always compelled to be English, for the bigger girls 
thought it too degrading. 

Lady Hope, a relative of my mother, frequently 
invited me to spend Saturday at Pinkie, She was 
a very ladylike person, in delicate health, and with 
cold manners. Sir Archibald was stout, loud, pas- 
sionate, and devoted to hunting. I amused myself 
in the grounds, a good deal afraid of a turkey- 
cock, who was pugnacious and defiant. 



[My mother remained at school at Musselbui'gh for a 
twelvemonth, till she was eleven years old. After this 
prolonged and elaborate education, she was recalled to 
Burntisland, and the results of the process she had 
undergone are detailed in her " EecoUections " -with 
much drollery. 

Soon after my return home I received a note 
from a lady in the neighbom^hood, inquiring for my 
mother, who had been ill. This note greatly dis- 
tressed me, for my half-text writing was as bad as 
possible, and I could neither compose an answer nor 
spell the words. My eldest cousin, Miss Somer\dIIe, 
a grown-up young lady, then with us, got me out of 
this scrape, but I soon got myself into another, by 
writing to my brother in Edinburgh that I had 
sent him a haiik-Jcnot (note) to buy something for 
me. The school at Musselburgh was expensive, 
and I was reproached with having cost so much 
money in vain. My mother said she would have 



been contented if I had only learnt to write well 
and keep accounts, wMch. was all that a woman Was 
expected to know. 

This passed over, and I was like a wild animal 
escaped out of a cage. .1 was no longer amused 
in the gardens, but wandered about the country. 
When the tide was out I spent hours on the sands, 
looking at the star-fish and sea-urchins, or watch- 
ing the children digging for sand-eels, cockles, and 
the spouting razor-fish. I made a collection of 
shells, such as were cast ashore, some so small that 
they appeared like white specks in patches of black 
sand. There was a small pier on the sands for 
shipping limestone brought from the coal mines 
inland. I was astonished to see the surface of 
these blocks of stone covered with beautiful im- 
pressions of what seemed to be leaves ; how they 
got there I could not imagine, but I picked up 
the broken bits, and even large pieces, an,d brought 
them to my repository. I knew the eggs of many 
birds, and made a collection of them. I never 
robbed a nest, but bought strings of eggs, Avhich 
were sold by boys, besides getting sea-fowl eggs 
from sailors who had been in whalers or on other 
northern voyages. It was believed by these sailors 
that there was a gigantic flat fish in the North Sea, 
called a kraken. It Avas so enormous that .when 


Mary So?nerville. 

it came to the surface, covered with tangles and 
sand, it was supposed to be an island, till, on one 
occasion, part of a ship's crew landed on it and 
found out their mistake. However, much as they 
believed in it, none of the sailors at Burntisland 
had ever seen it. The sea serpent was also an 
article of our faith. 

In the rocks at the end of our garden there 
was a shingly opening, in which we used to 
bathe, and where at low tide I frequently waded 
among masses of rock covered Avith sea-weeds. 
"With the exception of dulse and tangle I knew 
the names of none, though I was well acquainted 
with and admired many of these beautiful plants. 
I also watched the crabs, live shells, jelly-fish, and 
various marine animals, aU of which were objects 
of curiosity and amusement to me in my lonely life. 

The flora on the links and hUls around was very 
beautiful, and I soon learnt the trivial names of aU 
the plants. There was not a tree nor bush higher 
than furze in this part of the country, but the coast 
to the north-west of Burntisland was bordered by a 
tree and brushwood-covered bank belonging to the 
Earl of Morton, which extended to Aberdour. I 
could not go so far alone, but had fi-equent oppor- 
tunities of walking there and gathering ferns, fox- 
gloves, and primroses, which grew on the mossy 



banks of a little stream that ran into tlie sea. The 
bed of this stream or burn "was thickly covered 
with the freshwater mussel, which I knew often 
contained pearls, but I did not like to kiU the 
creatures to get the pearls. 

One day my father, who was a keen sportsman, 
having gone to fish for red trout at the mouth of this 
stream, found a young whale, or grampus, stranded 
in the shallow water. He immediately ran back 
to the town, got boats, captured the whale, and 
landed it in the harbour, where I went with the 
rest of the crowd to see the muclde fish. 

There was always a good deal of shipbuilding 
carried on in the harbour, generally coasting vessels 
or colliers. We, of course, went to see them launched, 
which was a pretty sight. 


When the bad weather began I did not know 
what to do with myself. Fortunately we had a 
small collection of books, among which I found 
Shakespeare, and read it at every moment I could 
spare from my domestic duties. These occupied a 
great part . of my time ; besides, I had to shew 
(sew) my sampler, working the alphabet from A 
to Z, as well as the ten numbers, on canvas. 

My mother did not prevent me from reading, but 
my aunt Janet, who came to live in Burntisland 


Mary Somerville. 

after her father's death, greatly disapproved of my 
conduct. She was an old maid who could be very 
agreeable and mtty, but she had all the prejudices 
of the time with regard to women's duties, and said 
to my mother, " I wonder you let Mary waste her 
time in reading, she never slieivs (sews) more than if 
she Avere a man." Whereupon I was sent to the 
village school to learn plain needlework. I do not 
remember how long it was after this that an old 
lady sent some very fine linen to be made into 
shirts for her brother, and desired that one should 
be made entirely by me. This shirt was so well 
worked that I was relieved from attending the 
school, but the house linen was given into my 
charge to make and to mend. We had a large 
stock, much of it very bea;Utiful, for the Scotch 
ladies at that time were very proud of their napery, 
but they no longer sent it to Holland to be bleached, 
as had once been the custom. We grew flax, and 
our maids spun it. The coarser yarn was woven in 
Burntisland, and bleached upon the links ; the finer 
was sent to Dunfermline, Avhere there was a manu- 
factory of table-linen. 

I was annoyed that my turn for reading was so 
much disapproved of, and thought it unjust that 
women should have been given a desire for know- 
ledge if it were Avrong to acquire it. Among our 



books I foimd Chapoue's " Letters to Young Women," 
and resolved to follow tlie course of history there 
recommended, the more so as we had most of the 
works she mentions. One, however, which my 
cousin lent me was in French, and here the little I had 
learnt at school was useful, for with the help of a 
dictionary I made out the sense. What annoyed 
me was my memory not being good — I could re- 
member neither names nor dates. Years afterwards 
I studied a " Memoria Technica," then in fashion, 
without success ; yet in my youth I could play long 
pieces of music on the piano without the book, and 
I never forget mathematical formulse. In looking 
over one of my MSS., which I had not seen for forty 
years, I at once recognised the formulae for com- 
puting the secular inequalities of the moon. 

We had two small globes, and my mother allowed 
me to learn the use of them from Mr. Eeed, the 
village schoolmaster, who came to teach me for a 
few weeks in the winter evenings. Besides the 
ordinary branches, Mr. Eeed taught Latin and navi- 
gation, but these were out of the question for me. 
At the village school the boys often learnt Latin, 
but it was thought sufficient for the girls to be able 
to read the Bible ; very few even learnt writing. I 
recollect, however, that some men were ignorant of 
book-keeping ; our baker, for instance, had a wooden 


Mary Somervilie. 

tally, in whicli lie made a notch for every loaf of 
bread, and of course we had the corresponding tally. 
They were called nick-sticks. 

My bedroom had a window to the south, and a 
small closet near had one to the north. At these I 
spent many hours, studying the stars by the aid of 
the celestial globe. Although I watched and ad- 
mired the magnificent displays of the Aurora, which 
frequently occurred, they seemed to be so nearly 
allied to lightning that I was somewhat afraid of 
them. At an earlier period of my life there was a 
comet, which I dreaded exceedingly. 


My father was Captain of the " Eepulse," a fifty- 
gun ship, attached to the Northern fleet commanded 
by the Earl of Northesk. The winter was extremely 
stormy, the fleet was driven far north, and kept 
there by adverse gales, till both officers and crew 
were on short rations. They ran out of candles, 
and had to tear up their stockings for wicks, and 
dip them into the fat of the salt meat which was 
left. We were in great anxiety, for it was reported 
that some of the ships had foundered; we were, 
however, relieved by the arrival of the " Repulse 
in Leith roads for repair. 

Our house on one occasion being full, I was 
sent to sleep in a room quite detached from the 

Nochtrnal Terrors. 


rest and witli a different staircase. There was 
a closet in this room in which my father kept 
liis fowling pieces, fishing tackle, and golf clubs, 
and a long garret overhead was filled with 
presses and stores of all kinds, among other things 
a number of large cheeses were on a board slung 
by ropes to the rafters. One night I had put 
out my candle and was fast asleep, when I was 
awakened by a violent crash, and then a rolling noise 
over my head. Now the room was said to be 
haunted, so that the servants would not sleep in it. 
I was desperate, for there was no bell. I groped 
my way to the closet — lucifer matches were un- 
known in those clays — I seized one of the golf clubs, 
which are shod with iron, and thundered on the bed- 
room door till I brought my father, followed by 
the whole household, to my aid. It was found 
that the rats had gnawed through the ropes by 
which the cheeses were suspended, so that the crash 
and rolling were accounted for, and I was scolded 
for making such an uproar. 

Children sufier much misery by being left alone in 
the dark. When I was very young I was sent to bed at 
eight or nine o'clock, and the maid who slept in the 
room went away as soon as I was in bed, leaving 
me alone in the dark till she <;ame to bed herself. 
All that time I was in an agony of fear of something 


Mary Somerville. 

indefinite, I conlcl not tell what. The joy, the relief, 
when the maid came back, were such that I instantly- 
fell asleep. Now that I am a widow and old, 
although I always have a night-lamp, such is the 
power of early impressions that I rejoice when 
daylight comes. 


At Burntisland the sacrament was administered in 
summer because people came in crowds from the 
neighbouring parishes to attend the preachings. 
The service was long and fatiguing. A number 
of clergymen came to assist, and as the minister's 
manse could not accommodate them all, we enter- 
tained three of them, one of whom was always the 
Eev. Dr. Campbell, father of Lord Campbell. 

Thursday was a day of preparation. The morning- 
service began by a psalm sung by the congregation, 
then a prayer was said by the minister, followed by 
a lecture on some chapter of the Bible, generally 
lasting an hour, after that another psalm was sung, 
followed by a prayer, a sermon which lasted seldom 
less than an hour, and the whole ended with a 
psalm, a short prayer and a benediction. Every one 
then went home to dinner and returned afterwards 
for afternoon service, which lasted more than an 
hour and a half. Friday was a day of rest, but I 
together with many young people went at this time 

TJic Sacrament. 


to tlic minister to receive a stamped piece of lead as 
a token that we were sufficiently instructed to be 
admitted to Clirist's table. This ticket was given 
to the Elder on the following Sunday. On Saturday 
there was a morning service, and on Sunday such 
nmltitudes came to receive the sacrament that the 
devotions continued till late in the evening. Tlie 
ceremony was very strikingly and solemnly con- 
ducted. The communicants sat on each side of long- 
Jiarrow tables covered with white linen, in imitation 
of the last supper of Christ, and the Elders handed 
the bread and wine. After a short exhortation from 
one of the ministers the first set retired, and were 
succeeded by others. When the weather was fine a 
sermon, prayers, and psalm-singing took place either 
in the churchyard or on a grassy bank at the Links 
for such as were waiting; to communicate. On the 
Monday morning there was the same long service as 
on the Thursday. It was too much for me ; I always 
came home with a headache, and took a dislike to^ 

Our minister was a rigid Calvin ist. His sermons, 
were gloomy, and so long that he occasionally would 
startle the congregation by calling out to some cul- 
prit, " Sit up there, how daur ye sleep i' the kirk." 
Some saw-mills in the neighbourhood were burnt 
clown, so the following Sunday we had a sermon on 



Mary Somerville. 

liell-fire. Tlie kirk was very large and quaint ; a 
stair led to a gallery on each side of the pulpit, which 
was intended for the tradespeople, and each division 
was marked with a suitable device, and text from 
Scripture. On the Lakers' portion a sheaf of wheat 
was painted ; a balance and weights on the grocers', 
and on the weavers', which was opposite to our pew, 
there was a. shuttle, and below it the motto, " My 
days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and arc 
spent without lioy job.'" The artist was evidently 
no clerk. 

My brother Sam, while attending the university 
in Edinburgh, came to us on the Saturdays and 
returned to town on Monday. He of course 
went with us to the kirk on Sunday morning, 
but we let our mother attend afternoon service 
alone, as he and I were happy to be together, 
and Ave spent the time sitting on the grassy rocks 
at the foot of our garden, from whence we could 
see a vast extent of the Firth of Forth with Edin- 
burgh and its picturesque hills. It was very 
amusing, for we occasionally i^aw three or four 
whales spouting, and shoals of porpoises at play. 
However, we did not escape reproof, for I recollect 
the servant coming to tell us that the minister 
had sent to inquire whether Mr. and Miss Fairfax 
had been taken ill, as he had not seen them at 




tlie kirk in the afternoon. The minister in ques- 
tion was Mr. Wemyss, who had married a younger 
sister of my mother's. 

When I was about thirteen my mother took a 
small apartment in Edinburgh for the wiater, and I 
was sent to a writing school, where I soon learnt 
to write a good hand, and studied the common 
rules of arithmetic. My uncle William Henry 
Charters, lately returned from India, gave me a 
pianoforte, and I had music lessons from an old lady 
who lived in the top story of one of the highest houses 
in the old town. I slept in the same room with 
my mother. One morning I called out, much 
alarmed, " There is lightning !" but my mother said, 
after a moment, " No ; it is fire !" and on opening 
the window shutters I found that the flakes of fire 
flying past had made the glass quite hot. The next 
house but one was on fire and burning fiercely, 
and the people next door were throwing everything 
they possessed, even china and glass, out of the 
windows into the street. We dressed quickly, and 
my mother sent immediately to Trotter the up- 
holsterer for four men. We then put our family 
pajDcrs, our silver, &c., &c., into trunks ; then my 
mother said, " Now let us breakfast, it is time enough 
for us to move our things when the next house takes 

D 2 


Ma7y Soviei'viUe. 

fire." Of its doing so there was every probability 
because casks of turpentine and. oil were exploding 
from time to time in a carriage manufactory at the 
back of it. Several gentlemen of om' acquaintance 
who came to assist us were surprised to find us 
breakfasting quietly as if there were nothing unusual 
going on. In fact my mother, though a coward in 
many things, had, like most women, the presence of 
mind and the courage of necessity. The fire was 
extinguished, and Ave had only the four men to pay 
for doing nothing, nor did we sacrifice any of our 
property like our neighbours who had completely 
lost their heads from terror. I may mention 
-here that on one occasion when my father was at 
home he had been iU with a severe cold, and wore 
his nightcap. While reading in the dramng-room 
one evening he called out, " I smell fire, there is no 
time to be lost," so, snatching up a candle, he 
wandered from room to room followed by us all still 
smelling fire, AA^hen one of the servants said, " 0, sir, 
it is the tassel of your nightcap that is on fire." 

* -ii * * * 

On returning to Burntisland, I spent four or five 
hours daily at the piano ; and for the sake of haAdng 
something to do, I taught myself Latin enough, 
from such books as we had, to read Caesar's " Com- 



meutaries." I went tliat summer on a visit to niy 
xiiiut at Jedburgh, and, for the first time in my life, 
I met in my uncle. Dr. Somerville, with a friend 
who approved of my thirst for knowledge. During 
long walks with him in the early mornings, he was 
so kind, that I had the courage to tell him that I 
had been trying to learn Latin, but I feared it was 
in vain ; for my brother and other boys, superior to 
me in talent, and with every assistance, spent years 
in learning it. He assm'cd me, on the contrary, 
that in ancient times many women — some of them 
•of the highest rank in England — ^liad been very 
elegant scholars, and that he would read Virgil 
with me if I would come to his study for an 
hour or two every morning before breakfast, which 
I gladly did. 

I never was happier in my life than during the 
months I spent at Jedburgh. My aunt was a 
■charming companion — witty, full of anecdote, and 
had read more than most women of her day, es- 
pecially Shakespeare, who was her favourite author. 
My cousins had little turn for reading, but they 
were better educated than most gii'ls. They were 
taught to write by David Brewster, son of the 
village schoolmaster, afterwards Sir David, who 
became one of the most distinguished philosophers 
xind discoverers of the age, member of all the 


Mary Somerville. 

scientific societies at home and abroad, and at last 
President of tlie University of Edinburgh. He was 
studying in Edinburgh when I was at Jedburgh; 
so I did not make his acquaintance then ; but later 
in life he became my valued friend. I did not 
know till after his death, that, while teaching my 
cousins, he fell in love with my cousin Margaret. 
I do not believe she was aware of it. She was 
afterwards attached to an officer in the army ; but 
my aunt would not allow her to go to that out- 
landish place, Malta, where he was quartered ; so 
she lived and died unmarried. Steam has changed 
our ideas of distance since that time. 

My uncle's house — the manse — in which I was 
born, stands in a pretty garden, bounded by the 
fine ancient abbey, which, though partially ruined, 
still serves as the parish kirk. The garden produced 
abundance of common flowers, vegetables, and fruit. 
Some of the plum and pear trees were very old, and 
were said to have been planted by the monks. 
Both were excellent in quality, and very productive. 
The view from both garden and manse was over the 
beautiful narrow valley through which the Jed 
flows. The j)rccipitous banks of red sandstone 
are richly clothed with vegetation, some of the trees 
ancient and very fine, especially the magnificent one 
called the capon tree, and the lofty king of the 



wood, remnants of the fine forests which at one 
time had covered the country. An. inland scene 
was new to me, and I Avas never tired of admiring 
the tree-crowned scaurs or precipices, where the rich 
o-low of the red sandstone harmonized so well with 
the autumnal tints of the foliage. 

We often bathed in the pure stream of the J ed. 
My aunt always went with us, and was the merriest 
of the X3arty; we bathed in a pool which was 
deep under the high scaur, but sloped gradually 
from the grassy bank on the other side. Quiet and 
transparent as the Jed was, it one day came down 
with irresistible fury, red with the debris of the 
sandstone scaurs. There had been a thunderstorm 
in the hills up-stream, and as soon as the river 
licgan to rise, the people came out "\vith pitchforks 
and hooks to catch the hayricks, sheaves of corn, 
drowned pigs, and other animals that came sweeping 
past. My cousins and I were standing on the 
bridge, but my aunt called us off when the water 
rose above the arches, for fear of the bridge givins: 
way. We made expeditions every day ; sometimes 
we went nutting in the forest ; at other times we 
gathered mushrooms on the grass parks of Stewart- 
field, where there was a wood of picturesque old 
Scotch firs, inhabited by a colony of rooks. I still 
kept the habit of looking out for birds, and had the 


Mary Somcrville. 

good fortune to see a lieron, now a rare bird in the 
valley of tlie Jed. Some of us went every day to 
a spring called the AUerly well, about a quarter of 
a mile from the manse, and brought a large jug of 
its sparkling water for dinner. The evenings were 
cheerful ; my aunt sang Scotch songs prettily, and 
told us stories and leo-ends about Jedburo-h, which 
had been a royal residence in the olden time. She 
had a tame white and tawny-coloured owl, which 
we fed every night, and sometimes brought into the 
drawing-room. The Sunday evening never was 
gloomy, though properly observed. We occasionally 
drank tea with acquaintances, and made "\asits of a 
few days to the Rutlierfurds of Edgerton and others ; 
but I was always glad to return to the manse. 

My uncle, like other ministers of the Scottish 
Kirk, was allowed a glebe, which he farmed him- 
self. Besides horses, a cow was kept, which sup- 
plied the family with cream and butter, and the 
skimmed milk was given to the poor ; but as the 
milk became scarce, one woman was deprived, for the 
time, of her share. Soon after, the cow was taken 
ill, and my uncle's ploughman, Will, came to him 
and said, " Sir, gin you would give that carline 
Tibby Jones her soup o' milk again, the coo would 
soon be weel eneugh." Will was by no means the 
only believer in witchcraft at that time. 



[My mother's next visit was to tlie house of her uucle, 
William Charters, in Edmburgh. From thence she was 
enabled to partake of the advantages of a dancing-school 
of the period. 

They sent me to Strano'c's dancino- school. Strange 
himself was exactly like a figure ou the stage ; tall 
and thin, he wore a powdered wig, with cannons at 
the ears, and a pigtail. Ruffles at the breast and 
wrists, white waistcoat, iDlack silk or velvet shorts, 
white silk stockings, large silver ljuckles, and a pale 
blue coat completed his costume. He had a little 
fiddle on Avhich he played, called a kit. My first 
lesson was how to walk and make a curtsey. "Young- 
lady, if you visit the queen you must make three 
curtsies, lower and lower and lower as you approach 
her. So — o — o," leading me on and making me 
curtsey. " Now, if the queen were to ask you to 
eat a bit of mutton with her, what would you say ? " 

^3 Mary Somerville. 

Every Saturday afternoon all the scholars, both boys 
and girls, met to practise in the public assembly 
rooms in George's Street. It Avas a handsome large 
ball with benches rising like an amphitheatre. 
Some of the elder girls were very pretty, and 
danced well, so these practisings became a lounge for 
officers from the Castle, and other young men. Wc 
used always to go in full evening dress. Wc learnt 
the minuet de la cour, reels and country dances. 
Our jDartners used to give us gingerbread and 
oranges. Dancing before so many people was quite 
an exhibition, and I was greatly mortified one day 
Avlien ready to begin a minuet, by the dancing- 
master shaking me roughly and making me hold 
out my frock proj^erly. 

Though kind in the main, my uncle and his wife 
were rather sarcastic and severe, and kept me down 
a good deal, which I felt keenly, but said nothing. 1 
was not a favourite with my family at that period 
of my life, because I was reserved and unexpansive, 
in consequence of the silence I was obliged to observe 
on the subjects which interested me. Three Miss 
Melvilles, friends, or perhaps relatives, of Mrs. 
Charters, were always held up to me as models of 
perfection, to be imitated in ever^-thing, and I 
wearied of hearing them constantly praised at my 

EdinbtLvgh Gossip. 


In a small society like thiit of Edinburgli there 
was a good deal of scandal and gossip ; every one's 
character and conduct were freely criticised, and by 
none more than by my aunt and her friends. She 
used to sit at a window embroidering, where she not 
only could see every one that passed, but with a 
small telescope could look into the dressing-room of 
a lady of her acquaintance, and watch all she did. 
A spinster lady of good family, a cousin of ours, 
carried her gossip so far, that she was tried for de- 
famation, and condemned to a month's imprisonment, 
which she actually underwent in the Tolbooth. She 
was let out just before the king's birthday, to cele- 
brate which, besides the guns fired at the Castle, the 
boys let off squibs and crackers in all the streets. 
As the lady in question was walking up the High 
Street, some lads in a wynd, or narrow street, fired a 
small cannon, and one of the slugs with which it 
was loaded hit her mouth and wounded her tono-ue. 
This raised a universal laugh ; and no one enjoyed 
it more than my uncle William, who disliked this, 
somewhat masculine woman. 

Whilst at my uncle's house, I attended a school 
for writing and arithmetic, and made considerable 
j)rogress in the latter, for I liked it, but I soon forgot 
it from want of j^ractice. 

My uncle and aunt generally paid a visit to the 


Mary Somerville. 

Lyells of Kiunordy, tlic father and mother of my 
friend Sir Charles Lyell, the celebrated geologist ; 
but this time they accepted an invitation from Cap- 
tain Wedderburn, and took me Avith them. Captain 
Wedderburn was an old bachelor, who had left the 
army and devoted himself to agriculture. Mounted 
on a very tall but quiet horse, I accompanied my 
host every morning when he went over his farm, 
which was chiefly a grass farm. The house was 
infested with rats, and a masculine old maid, who 
was of the party, lived in such terror of them, that 
she had a light in her bedroom, and after she 
was in bed, made her maid tuck in the white 
dimity curtains all round. One night we were 
awakened by violent screams, and on going to see 
what was the matter, we found Miss Cowe in the 
middle of the room, bare-footed, in her night-dress, 
screaming at the top of her voice. Instead of tucking 
the rats out of the bed, the maid had tucked one 
in, and Miss Cowe on waking beheld it sitting on 

her pillow. 

* * «- * * 

There was great jDolitical agitation at this time. 
The corruption and tyranny of the court, nobility, 
and clergy in France were so great, that when the 
revolution broke out, a large portion of om* popula- 
tion thought the French people were perfectly justi- 



fied in revolting, and warmly espoused tlieir cause. 
Later many changed tlieir opinions, shocked, as 
every one was, at the death of the king and 
queen, and the atrocious massacres which took place 
in France. Yet some not only approved of the 
revolution abroad, but were so disgusted with our 
mal-administration at home, to which they attributed 
our failure in the war in Holland and elsewhere, 
that great dissatisfaction and alarm prevailed 
throughout the country. The violence, on the 
other hand, of the opposite party was not to be 
described, — the very name of Liberal was detested. 

Great dissensions were caused by difference of 
opinion in families ; and I heard people pre- 
viously much esteemed accused from this cause 
of all that was evil. My uncle William and my 
father were as violent Tories as any. 

The Liberals were distinguished by wearing their 
hair short, and when one day I happened to say 
how becoming a crop was, and that I wished the 
men would cut off those ugly pigtails, my father 
exclaimed, " By G — , when a man cuts off his 
queue, the head should go with it." 

The unjust and exaggerated abuse of the Liberal 
party made me a Liberal. From my .earliest 
years my mind revolted against oppression and 
tyranny, and I resented the injustice of the work] 


Mary Somerville. 

in denying all tliose privileges of education 
to my sex whicli were so lavishly bestowed on 
men. My liberal opinions, both in religion and 
politics, have remaiued unchanged (or, rather, have 
advanced) throughout my life, but I have never been 
a republican. I have always considered a higlily- 
educated aristocracy essential, not only for govern- 
ment, but for the refinement of a people. 

[After her winter in Edinburgh, mother retui-ned 
to Burntisland. Strange to say, she found there, in an 
iUustrated Magazine of Fashions, the introduction to the 
great study of her life. 

I was often invited with my mother to the tea- 
parties given either by widows or maiden ladies who 
resided at Burntisland. A pool of commerce used 
to be keenly contested till a late horn- at these 
parties, wliich bored me exceedingly, but I there be- 
came acquainted with a Miss Ogilvie, much younger 
than the rest, who asked me to go and see fancy 
works she was doing, and at which she was very 
clever. I went next day, and after admiring her 
work, and being told how it was done, she showed 
me a monthly magazine with coloured plates of 
ladies' dresses, charades, and puzzles. At the end 
of a page I read what appeared to me to be simply 
an arithmetical question ; but on turning the page I 



was sui'prised to see strange looking lines mixed 
with letters, chiefly X'es and Y's, and asked; " What 
is that ? " " Oh," said Miss Ogilvie, " it is a kind 
of arithmetic : they call it Algebra ; but I can tell 
you nothing about it." And we talked about 
other things ; but on going home I thought I 
would look if any of our books could tell me what 
was meant by Algebra. 

In Robertson's " Navigation " I flattered myself 
that I had got precisely what I wanted ; but I soon 
found that I was mistaken. I perceived, however, 
that astronomy did not consist in star-gazing,"" and 
as I persevered in studying the book for a time, I 
certainly got a dim view of several subjects which 
were useful to me afterwards. Unfortunately not one 
of our acquaintances or relations knew anything of 
science or natural history ; nor, had they done so, 
should I have had courage to ask any of them a 
question, for I should have been laughed at. I 
was often very sad and forlorn; not a hand held 
out to help me. 

My uncle and aunt Charters took a house at Burnt- 
island for the summer, and the Miss Melville I have 
already mentioned came to pay them a visit. She 

* Blany people evidently thiiik the science of astronomy consists 
entirely in observing the stars, for I have been frequently asked if I 
passed my nights looking through a telescope, and I have astonished 
the enquirers by saying I did not even possess one. 

4S Alary Somerville. 

painted miniatures, and from seeing her at work, I 
took a ftmcy to learn to dra\Y, and actually wasted 
time in copying prints ; but tliis . circumstance en- 
abled me to get elementary books on Algebra and 
Geometry without asking questions of any one, as 
will be explained afterwards. The rest of the sum- 
mer I spent in playing on the piano and learning- 
Greek enough to read Xenophon and part of Hero- 
dotus ; then we prepared to go to Edinburgh. 

My mother was so much afraid of the sea that she 
never would cross the Firth except in a boat belonging 
to a certain skipper who had served in the Na"\y and 
lost a hand ; he had a hook fastened on the stump 
to enable him to haul 'ropes. My brother and I were 
tired of the country, and one sunny day we per- 
suaded my mother to embark. When we came to 
the shore, the skipper said, "I wonder that the 
leddy boats to-day, for though it is calm here under 
the lee of the land, there is a stiff breeze outside." 
AVe made him a sign to hold his tongue, for we 
knew this as well as he did. Our mother went 
down to the cabin and remained silent and quiet for 
a time ; but when we began to roll and be tossed 
about, she called out to the skipper, " George ! this 
is an awful storm, 1 am sure we are in great danger. 
Mind how you steer ; remember, I trust in you ! " 
He laughed, and said, " Dinna trust in me, leddy ; 

Painting Lessons. 


trust in God Almighty." Our mother, in perfect 
terror, called out, " Dear me ! is it come to that 1" 
We burst out laughing, skipper and all. 

Nasmyth, an exceedingly good landscape painter^ 
had opened an academy for ladies in Edinburgh, a 
proof of the gradual improvement which was taking 
place in the education of the higher classes; my 
mother, very wUlingiy allowed me to attend it. The 
class was very full. I was not taught to draw, but 
looked on while Nasmjrth painted ; then a picture 
was given me to copy, the master correcting the 
faults. Though I spoilt canvas, I had made some 
progress by the end of the season.* Mr. Nasmyth, 
besides being a good artist, was clever, well- 
informed, and had a great deal of conversation. One 
day I happened to be near him while he was talking 
to the Ladies Douglas about perspective. He said, 
" You should study Euclid's Elements of Geometry, 
the foundation not only of perspective, but of astro- 
nomy and all mechanical science." Here, in the most 
unexpected manner, I got the information I wanted, 
for I at once saw that it would help me to under- 
stand some parts of Eobertson's "Navigation ;" but 
as to going to a bookseller and asking for Euclid the 

* Nasmyth told a lady still alive who took lessons from him in her 
youth, that the cleverest young lady he ever taught was Miss Mary 


Mary Somerville. 

thing was impossible ! Besides I did not yet know 
anything definite about Algebra, so no more could 
be done at that time ; but I never lost sight of an 
object which had interested me from the first. 

I rose early, and played four or five hours, as 
usual, on the piano, and had lessons from Corri, an 
Italian, who taught carelessly, and did not correct a 
habit I had of thumping so as to break the 
strings; but I learned to tune a piano and mend the 
strings, as there was no tuner at Burntisland. After- 
wards I got over my bad habit and played the music 
then in vogue : pieces by Pleyel, Clementi, Steibelt, 
Mozart, and Beethoven, the last being my favourite 
to this day. I was sometimes accompanied on 
the violin by Mr. Thomson, the friend of Bums ; 
more frequently by Stabilini ; but I was always too 
shy to play before people, and invariably played 
badly when obliged to do so, which vexed me. 

The prejudice against the theatre had been very 
great in Scotland, and still existed among the rigid 
Calvinists. One day, when I was fom-teen or fifteen, 
on going into the drawing-room, an old man sitting 
beside my mother rose and kissed me, saying, " I 
am one of your mother's oldest friends." It was 
Home, the author of the tragedy of "Douglas." 
He was obliged to resign his living in the kirk for 



tlie scandal of having had his play acted in the 
theatre in Edinburgh, and some of his clerical friends 
were publicly rebuked for going to see it. Our family 
was perfectly liberal in all these matters. The first 
time I had ever been in a theatre I went with my 
father to see " Cymbeline." I had never neglected 
Shakespeare, and when our great tragedians, Mrs. 
Siddons and her brother, John Kemble, came for a 
short time to act in Edinburgh, I could think of 
nothmg else. They were both remarkably hand- 
some, and, notwithstanding the Scotch prejudice, 
the theatre was crowded every night. It was a 
misfortune to me that my mother never would go 
into society during the absence of my father, nor, 
indeed, at any time, except, perhaps, to a dinner 
party; but I had no difficulty in finding a chaperone, 
as we knew many people. I used to go to the 
theatre in the morning, and ask to see the plan of 
the house for the evening, that I might know which 
ladies I could accompany to their boxes. Of 
course I paid for my place. Our friends were so 
kind that I saw these great artists, as well as 
Charles Kemble, Young, and Bannister, in " Ham- 
let," " Macbeth," "Othello," " Coriolanus," "The 
Gamester," &c. 

It was gTeatly to the honour of the British stage 
that all the principal actors, men and women, were 

E 2 


Alary Somervillc. 

of excellent moral character, and much esteemed. 
Many years afterwards, when Mrs. Siddons was an 
old woman, I drank tea with her, and heard her 
read Milton and Shakespeare. Her daughter told us 
to applaud, for she had been so much accustomed to 
it in the theatre that she could not read with spirit 
Avithout this expression of approbation. 

My mother was pleased with my music and 
painting, and, although she did not go to the 
theatre herself, she encouraged me to go. She was 
quite of the old school with regard to the duties of 
women, and very particular about her table ; and, 
although we were obliged to live with rigid economy, 
our food was of the best quality, well dressed, and 
neatly served, for she could tell the cook exactly 
what was amiss when anything was badly cooked. 
She thought besides that some of the comfort of 
married life depended upon the table, so I was sent 
to a pastrycook for a short time every day, to learn 
the art of cookery. I had for companions Miss Mou- 
creifF, daughter of Sir Henrys Moncreiff Wellwood, 
a Scotch baronet of old family. She was older than 
I, pretty, pleasing, and one of the belles of the 
day. "We were amused at the time, and afterwards 
made jellies and creams for little supper parties, 
then in fashion, though, as far as economy went, we 
might as well have bought them. 

Euclid at last. 

On returning to Burntisland, I played on the 
piano as diligently as ever, and painted several 
hours every day. At this time, however, a Mr. 
Craw came to live with us as tutor to my youngest 
brother, Henry. He had been educated for the 
kirk, was a fair Greek and Latin scholar, but, 
unfortunately for me, was no mathematician. He 
was a simple, good-natured kind of man, and I 
ventured to ask him about algebra and geometry, 
and begged him, the first time he went to Edin- 
burgh, to buy me something elementary on these 
subjects, so he soon brought me "Euclid" and Bonny- 
castle's "Algebra," which were the books used in the 
schools at that time. Now I had got what I so 
long and earnestly desired. I asked Mr. Craw to 
hear me demonstrate a few problems in the first 
book of " Euclid," and then I continued the study 
alone with courage and assiduity, knowing I was on 
the right road. Before I began to read algebra I 
found it necessary to study arithmetic again, having 
forgotten much of it. I never was expert at 
addition, for, in summing up a long column of 
pounds, shillings, and pence, in the family account 
book, it seldom came out twice the same way. In 
after life I, of course, used logarithms for the higher 
branches of science. 

I had to take part in the household affairs, and to 


Mary Somerviiie. 

make aucl mend my own clothes. I rose early, 
played on the piano, and painted during the time 
I could spare in the daylight hours, but I sat up 
very late reading Euclid. The servants, however, 
told my mother " It was no wonder the stock of 
candles was soon exhausted, for Miss Mar}' sat up 
reading till a very late hour;" whereupon an order 
was given to take away my candle as soon as I was 
in bed. I had, however, already gone through the 
first six books of Euclid, and now I was thrown 
on my memory, which I exercised by beginning at 
the first book, and demonstrating in my mind a 
certain number of problems every night, till I could 
nearly go through the whole. My father came home 
for a short time, and, somehow or other, finding out 
what I was about, said to my mother, "Peg, we 
must put a stop to this, or we shall have IMary in 
a strait jacket one of these days. There was X.,. 
who went raving mad about the longitude !" 

■jjt ^ "^K" ^ ^ 

In our younger days my brother Sam and I kept 
various festivals : we burnt nuts, ducked for apj^lcs,. 
and observed many other of the ceremonies of 
Halloween, so well described by Burns, and we 
always sat up to hail the new year on New Year's 
Eve. "When in Edinburgh we sometimes disguised 
ourselves as " guisarts," and went about Avith a basket 

Christinas Doings. 


fiill of Christmas cakes called Ijuns and shortbread, 
and a flagon of " het-pint " or posset, to wish our 
friends ■ a " Happy New Year." At Christmas time a 
set of men, called the Cluistmas Wakes, walked 
slowly through the streets during the midnight 
hom^s, playing our sweet Scotch airs on flageolets. 
I remember the sound from a distance fell gently 
on my sleeping ear, swelled softly, and died away 
in distance again, a passing breeze of sweet sound. 
It was very pleasing ; some thought it too. sad.' 

My grandfather was intimate ^\'ith the Boswells 
of Balmuto, a bleak place a few miles to the north 
of Burntisland. Lord Balmuto, a Scotch judge, 
who was then proprietor, had been a dancing com- 
panion of my mother's, and had a son and two 
daughters, the eldest a nice girl of my age, with whom 
I was intimate, so I gladly accepted an invitation to 
visit them at Balmuto. Lord Balmuto was a large 
coarse-looking man, Avith black hair and beetling 
eyebrows. Though not vulgar, he was passionate, 
and had a boisterous manner. My mother and her 
sisters gave him the niclmame of the " black bull of 
Norr'away," in allusion to the northern position of 
Balmuto. Mrs. Boswcll was gentle and. lady-like. 
The son had a turn for chemistry, and his father took 
me to see what they called the Laboratory.. What 
a laboratory might be I knew not, as I had never 


Mary Somerville. 

heard the word before, but somehow I did not like the 
look of the curiously-shaped glass things and other 
apparatus, so when the son put a substance on the 
table, and took a hammer, his father saying, " Now 
you will hear a fine report," I ran out of the room, 
saying, " I don't like reports." Sure enough there was 
a veiy loud report, followed by a violent crash, and 
on going into the room again, we found that the son 
had been knocked down, the father was trembling 
from head to foot, and the apparatus had been 
smashed to pieces. They had had a narrow escape. 
Miss Boswell led a dull life, often passing the 
winter with her mother in that solitary place, 
Balniuto ; and when in Edinburgh, she was much 
kept down by her father, and associated little with 
people of her own age and station. The conse- 
, quence was that she eloped with her drawing- 
master, to the inexpressible rage and mortification 
of her father, who had aU the Scotch pride of family 
and pure blood. 

This year we Temained longer in the country 
than usual, and I went to spend Christmas with 
the Oswalds of Dunnikeir. The family consisted 
of a son, a colonel in the army, and three 
daughters, the youngest about my age, a bold 
horsewoman. She had talent, became a good 
Greek and Latin scholar, and was afterwards 

The Ostuald Family. 


married to the Earl of Elgin. More than seventy 

years after this I had a visit from the Dean of 

Westminster and Lady Augusta Stanley, her 

daughter; a very charming person, who told me 

ubout her family, of wliich I had heard nothing 

for years. I was very happy to see the Dean, one 

of the most liberal and distinguished members of 

the Church of England, and son of my old friend 

the late Bishop of Norwich. 


When I returned to Edinburgh Mr. Nasmyth 
was much pleased with the progress I had made in 
painting, for, besides having copied several land- 
scapes he had lent me, I had taken the outline 
of a print and coloured it from a storm I saw at 
the end of our garden. This picture I still possess. 

Dr. Blair, minister of the High Kirk of Edin- 
burgh, the well-known author and professor of 
Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in the University, an 
intimate friend of my grandfather's, had heard of 
my tm'n for painting, and asked my mother to let 
him see some of my pictures. A few of the best 
were sent to him, and were returned after a few 
days accompanied by a long letter from the old 
gentleman, pointing out what he admired most in 
each picture. I was delighted with the letter, and 
not a little vain of the praise. 


Mary Somerville. 


My dear Miss Fairfax, 

This comes to return you a thousand thanks 
for the i)leasure and entertainment I have had from your 
landscape paintings. I had them placed in the best 
light I could contrive in my drawing-room, and enter- 
tained mjj-self a good while every day looking at them 
and admiring their beauties, wliich alwaj^s grew upon me. 
I intend to return them to j'ou to-morrow, or rather on 
the beginning of next week ; and as they were taken 
particular care of, I hope they shall not appear to have 
suffered any injur3^ 

I have exliibited them to several people, some of 
whom were excellent judges, whom I brought on purpose 
to view them — Lady Miller, the Solicitor and Mrs. Blair, 
his lad}'. Dr. Hill, Miss Anne Ker of Nisbet, and a 
variety of ladies. All joined in praising them highly. 
The penserosa figure caught the highest admiration of 
anj'', from the gracefulness of the figure and attitude, and 
the boldness and propriety of the scenery. The two 
morning and evening \T.ews — one of Lochness, and the 
other of Elcho Castle — which make fine companions, and 
which I always placed together, were also highly admired. 
Each of them had their different partizans, and I myself 
was for a good while undetermined which of them to 
prefer. At last, I found the placidity of the scene in 
Elcho Castle, with the cottages among the trees, dwelt 
most on my imagination, though the gaiety and brightness 
of the morning sky in the other has also exquisite beauty. 
On the whole, I am persuaded that your taste and powers 
of execution in that art are uncommonly great, and that 

Letter from Dr. Blair. 


if you go on you must excel liiglily, and may go what 
length you please. Landscape pamting has been always 
a great favourite with me; and you have really con- 
tributed much to my entertainment. As I thought you 
might wish to know my sentiments, after your paintings 
had been a little considered, I was led to write you these 
hnes (in which I assure you there is nothing flattering), 
before sending back youi- pieces to you. With best 
com]3Hments to Lady Fau-fax, believe me. 

Your obliged and most obedient Servant, 

Hugh Blair. 

Argyll Square, Wlli Ajyril (probably) 1796. 

A day or two after this a Mrs. Eamsay, a rich 
proud widow, a relation of my mother's, came with 
her daughter, who was an heiress, to pay us a 
morning visit. Looking round the room she asked 
who had painted the pictures hung up on the 
walls. My mother, who Avas rather proud of them, 
said they were painted by me. " I am glad," said 
Mrs. Eamsay, " that Miss Fairfax has any kind of 
talent that may enable her to Avin her bread, for 
everyone knows she will not have a sixpence." 
:It was a very severe hit, because it was true. Had 
it been my lot to wdn my bread by painting, I fear 
I should have fared badly, but I never should have 
been ashamed of it ; on the contrary, I should have 
been very proud had I been successful. I must 
say the idea of making money had never entered 


Mary Somerville. 

my head in any of my pursuits, but I was in- 
tensely ambitious to excel in something, for I felt 
in my own breast that women were capable of 
taking a higher place in creation than that as- 
signed to them in my early days, which was 
very low. 

Not long after Mrs. Kamsay's visit to my mother, 
Miss Eamsay went to visit the Dons, at Newton 
Don, a pretty place near Kelso. Miss Eamsay and 
the three Miss Dons were returning from a long 
walk ; they had reached the park of Newton Don, 
when they heard the dinner bell ring, and fearing to 
be too late for dinner, instead of going round, they 
attempted to cross a brook which runs through the 
park. One of the Miss Dons stumbled on the 
stepping-stones and fell into the water. Her two 
sisters and Miss Eamsay, trying to save her, fell 
in one after another. The three Miss Dons were 
drowned, but Miss Eamsay, who wore a stiff worsted 
petticoat, was buoyed up by it and carried down 
stream, where she caught by the branch of a tree 
and was saved. She never recovered the shock of 
the dreadful scene. 



[By tliis time my mother was grown up, and extremely 
pretty. All those who knew her speak of her rare and 
dehcate beauty, both of face and figure. They called 
her the " Eose of Jedwood." She kept her beauty to 
the last day of her life, and was a beautiful old woman, 
as she had been a lovely young one. She used to 
say, laugliing, that " it was very hard no one ever thought 
of painting her portrait so long as she was young and 
pretty." After she became celebrated, various lilie- 
uesses were taken of her, by far the best of which 
ai"e a beautiful bust, modelled at Eome in 1844 by Mr. 
LaAvrence Macdonald, and a crayon di-awing by Mr. 
James Swinton, done in London in 1848. Mj*- mother 
always looked considerably younger than her age ; even 
at ninetj', she looked younger than some who were 
her juniors by several years. This was owing, no doubt, 
2)rincij)ally to her being small and dehcate in face and 
figure, but also, I thmk, to the extreme youthfuhiess 
and freshness of both her heart and mind, neither of 
which ever grew old. It certainly was not due to a 
youthful style of dress, for she had perfect taste in such 
matters, as well as in other things; and although no 


Mary Somerville. 

one spent less thought or money on it than she, my 
mother was at all times both neatly and becomingly 
dressed. She never Avas careless ; and her room, her 
papers, and all that belonged to her were invariabl}' in 
the most beautiful order. Mj^ mother's recollections of 
tliis period of her life are as follows : — 

At that time Edinburgii was really the capital of 
Scotland ; most of the Scotch families of distinction 
spent the winter there, and we had numerous 
acquaintances who invited me to whatever gaiety 
was going on. As my mother refused to go into 
society when my father was at sea, I had to find a 
chaperon ; but I never was at a loss, for we were 
somehow related to the Erskine family, and the 
Countess of Buchan, an amiable old lady, was always 
ready to take charge of me. 

It was under Lady Buchan's care that I made 
my first appearance at a ball, and my first dancing 
partner was the late Earl of JMinto, then Mr. Gilbert 
Elliot, with whom I was always on very friendly 
terms, as well as with his fiimily. Many other 
ladies were willing to take charge of me, but a 
cliaperon was only required for the theatre, and con- 
certs, and for balls in the public assembly rooms ; at 
private balls the lady of the house was thought suffi- 
cient. Still, although I was sure to know everybody 
in the room, or nearly so, I liked to have some one 

First Ball. 


with whom to enter and to sit beside. Few ladies 
kept carriages, but went in sedan chairs, of which 
there were stands in the principal streets. Ladies 
were generally attended by a man-servant, but I 
went alone, as our household consisted of two maid- 
servants only. My mother knew, however, that 
the Highlanders who carried me could be trusted. 
I was fond of dancing, and never without partners, 
and often came home in bright daylight. The 
dances were reels, country dances, and sometimes 
Sir Eoger de Coverley. 

[At this period, although busily engaged in studjing 
painting at Nasmj^th's academy, practising the piano five 
hom's a day, and pursuuig her more serious studies 
zealously, my mother went a good deal into societj', for 
Edinbm'gh was a gay, sociable place, and many people 
who recollect her at that time, and some who Avere her 
dancing jpartners, have told me she was much admhed, 
and a great favomite. They said she had a graceful 
figm'e, below the middle size, a small head, well set on 
her shoulders, a beautiful complexion, bright, intelhgent 
eyes, and a profusion of soft brown hah. Besides the 
various occupations I have mentioned, she made all her 
own dresses, even for baUs. These, however, unhide the 
elaborate productions of our day, were simply of fine 
India muslin, with a little Flanders lace. She says of 
her life hi Edinbm'gh : — 


Mary Somei'ville. 

Girls* had perfect liberty at that time in Edin- 
burgh ; we walked together in Princes Street, the 
fashionable promenade, and were joined by our 
dancing partners. We occasionally gave little 
supper parties, and presented these young men to 
our parents as they came in. At these meetiugs 
we played at games, danced reels, or had a little 
music — never cards. After supper there were toasts, 
sentiments, and songs. There were always one or 
two hot dishes, and a variety of sweet things and 
fruit. Though I was much more at ease in society 
now, I was always terribly put out when asked for 
a toast or a sentiment. Like other girls, I did not dis- 
like a little quiet flirtation ; but I never could speak 
across a table, or take a leading part in conversation. 
This diffidence was probably owing to the secluded 
life I led in my early youth. At this time I gladly 
took part in any gaiety that was going on, and spent 
the day after a ball in idleness and gossiping with my 
friends ; but these were rare occasions, for the balls 
were not numerous, and I never lost sight of the 
main object of my life, which was to prosecute my 
studies. So I painted at Nasmyth's, played the 
usual number of hours on the piano, worked and 
conversed with my mother in the evening ; and as 
we kept early hours, I rose at day-break, and after 
dressing, I wrapped myself in a blanket from my 

Relief from Study. 65 

bed on account of the excessive cold — having no 
fire at that hour — and read algebra or the classics 
till breakfast time. I had, and still have, deter- 
mined perseverance, but I soon found that it was 
in vain to occupy my mind beyond a certain time. 
I grew tired and did more harm than good ; so, if I 
met with a difficult point, for example, in algebra, 
instead of poring over it till I was bewildered, I left 
it, took my work or some amusing book, and resumed 
it when my mind was fresh. Poetry was my great 
resource on these occasions, but at a later period 
I read novels, the " Old English Baron," the 
"Mysteries of Udolpho," the "Romance of the 
Forest," &c. I was very fond of ghost and witch 
stories, both of which were believed in by most of 
the common people and many of the better educated. 
I heard an old naval officer say that he never opened 
his eyes after he was in bed. I asked him why ? 
and he replied, "For fear I should see something !" 
Now I did not actually believe in either ghosts or 
witches, but yet, when alone in the dead of the 
night, I have been seized with a dread of, I know 
not what. Few people will now understand me if I 
say I was eerie, a Scotch expression for supersti- 
tious awe. I have been struck, on reading the life 
of the late Sir David Brewster, with the influence 
the superstitions of the age and country had on 


Mary SoiJterville. 

both learned and unlearned. Sir David was one of 
the greatest philosophers of the day. He was only a 
year younger than I ; we were both born in Jed- 
burgh, and both were influenced by the supersti- 
tions of our age and country in a similar manner, 
fur he confessed that, although he did not believe 
in ghosts, he was eerie when sitting up to a late 
hour in a lone house that was haunted. This is a 
totally different thing from believing in spirit- 
rapping, which I scorn. 

We returned as usual to Burntisland, in spring, 
and my father, who was at home, took my mother 
and me a tour in the Highlands. I was a e-reat 
admirer of Ossian's poems, and viewed the grand and 
beautiful scenery with awe ; and my father, who 
was of a romantic disposition, smiled at my en- 
thusiastic admiration of the eagles as they soared 
above the mountains. These noble birds are nearly 
extirpated ; and, indeed, the feathered tribes, which 
were more varied and numerous in Britain than in 
any part of Europe, will soon disappear. They 
will certainly be avenged by the insects. 

On coming home from the journey I was quite 
l-roken-hearted to find my beautiful goldfinch, which 
used to draw its water so prettily with an ivory cup 
and little chain, dead in its cage. The odious 
wretches of servants, to whose care I trusted it, let 

Miitiny in the Fleet. 


it die of hunger. My heart is deeply pained as 
I write this, seventy years afterwards. 

In rifeshire, as elsewhere, political opinions 
separated friends and disturbed the peace of 
families ; discussions on political questions were 
violent and dangerous on account of the hard- 
drinking then so prevalent. At this time the 
oppression and cruelty committed in Great Britain 
were almost beyond endurance. Men and women 
were executed for what at the present day would 
only have been held to deserve a few weeks' 
or montlis' imprisonment.* Every liberal opinion 
was crushed, men were entrapped into the army 
by promises which were never kept, and press- 
gangs tore merchant seamen from their families, 
and forced them to serve in the nav}'', where 
they were miserably provided for. The severity 
of discipline in both services amounted to tor- 
ture. Such was the treatment of the brave men 
on whom the safety of the nation depended ! They 
could bear it no longer ; a mutiny br(>ke out in the 
fleet which had been cruising off the Texel to watch 
the movements of a powerful Dutch squadron. The 

* The late Justice Coltman told us, when he and Lady Coltman 
came to see my father and mother at Siena, that he recollected when he 
first went the circuit seeing more than twenty people hanged at once at 
York, chiefly for horse-stealing and such ofEences. — Editor. 

F 2 


Mary Somerville. 

men rose against their officers, took tlie command, 
and ship after ship returned to England, leaving 
only a frigate and the "Venerable," commanded by 
• Admiral Duncan, with my father as his flag-captain. 
To deceive the Dutch, they continued to make 
signals, as if the rest of the fleet were in the offing, till 
they could return to England ; when, without delay, 
Admiral Duncan and my father went alone on board 
each ship, ordered the men to arrest the ringleaders, 
which was done, and the fleet immediately returned 
to its station ofl" the Texel. At last, on the morning 
of the 11th October, 1797, the Dutch fleet came out 
in great force, and formed in line of battle ; that is, 
with their broadsides towards our ships. Then 
Admiral Duncan said to my father, " Fairfax, what 
shall we do V — " Break their line, sir, and draw up 
on the other side, where they will not be so well 
prepared." — " Do it, then, Fairfax." So my father 
signalled accordingly. The cu'cumstances of the 
battle, which was nobly fought on both sides, are 
historical. Nine ships of the line and two frigates 
were taken, and my father was sent home to an- 
nounce the victory to the Admiralty. The rejoiciug 
was excessive ; every town and village was illumi- 
nated ; and the Administration, relieved from the 
fear of a revolution, continued more confidently its 
oppressive measures. 



When Admiral Duncan came to London, be was 
made a Baron, and afterwards Earl of Camperdown ; 
and, by an unanimous vote of the House of Com- 
mons, he received a pension or a sum of money, I 
forget which ; my father was knighted, and made 
Colonel of Marines. Earl Spencer was First Lord 
of the Admiralty at the time, and Lady Spencer 
said to my father, " You ask for the promotion of 
your officers, but you never have asked a reward 
for yourself." He replied, " I leave that to my 
country." But his country did nothing for him ; 
and at his death my mother had nothing to live 
upon but the usual pension of an Admiral's widow, 
of seventy-five pounds a-year. Our friends, espe- 
cially Robert Ferguson, junior, of Raith, made 
various attempts to obtain an addition to it ; but 
it was too late : Camperdown was forgotten. 

I remember one morning going to Lord Camper- 
down's house in Edinburgh with my mother, to see 
a very large painting, representing the quarter-deck 
of the " Venerable," Admiral Duncan, as large as 
life, standing upright, and the Dutch Admiral, De 
Winter, presenting his sword to my father. Another 
representation of the same scene may be seen 
among the numerous pictures of naval battles which 
decorate the walls of the great hall at Greenwich 
Hospital. Many years afterwards I was surprised to 


Mary Somerville. 

see an engraving of this very picture in the public 
library at Milan. I did not know that one existed. 

At a great entertainment given to Lord Duncan 
by the East India Company, then in great power, 
the President asked my father, who sat at his left 
hand, if he had any relation in India ? He replied, 
" My eldest son is in the Company's military service." 
" Then," said the President, " he shall be a Writer, 
the highest appointment in my power to bestow." 
I cannot tell how thankful we were ; for, instead of 
a separation of almost a lifetime, it gave hopes that 
my brother might make a sufficient fortune in a 
few years to enable him to come home. There was 
a great review of the troops at Calcutta, under a 
• burning sun ; my brother returned to the barracks, 
sun-struck, where he found his appointment, and 
died that evening, at the age of twenty-one. 

* * * * * ■ 

[My mother has often told us of her heart-broken 
parting with this brother on his going to India. It was 
then ahnost for a hfetiine, and he was her favourite 
brother, and the companion of her childhood. He must 
have been wonderfully handsome, judging from a beauti- 
fully-painted miniature which we have of him. 

Public events became more and more exciting 
every day, and difficulties occurred at home. There 
had been bad harvests, and there was a great 

At yedbu7'gh. 


scarcity of bread ; the people were much distressed, 
and the manufacturing towns in England were 
almost in a state of revolution ; but the fear of 
invasion kept them quiet. I gloried in the brilliant 
success of our arms by land and by sea ; and 
although I should have been glad if the people 
had resisted oppression at home, when we were 
threatened with invasion, I would have died to 
prevent a Frenchman from landing on our coast. 
No one can imao;ine the intense excitement which 
pervaded all ranks at that time. Every one was 
armed, and, notwithstanding the alarm, we could 
not but laugh at the awkward, and often ridiculous, 
figures of our old acquaintances, when at drill in 
uniform. At that time I went to visit my relations 
at Jedburgh. Soon after my arrival, we were 
awakened in the middle of the night by the 
Yeomanry entering the town at full gallop. 
The beacons were burning on the top of the 
Cheviots and other hills, as a signal that the French 
had landed. When day came, every preparation 
was made ; but it was a false alarm. 

The rapid succession of victories by sea and land 
was intensely exciting. We always illuminated our 
house, and went to the rocky bank in our southern 
garden to see the illumination of Edinburgh, Leith, 
and the shipping in the Roads, which was iuex- 



Mary So77iervilk. 

pressibly beautiful, tliougli there was no gas in 
those times. It often happened that balls were 
given by the officers of the ships of war that came 
occasionally to Leith Roads, and I was always 
invited, but never allowed to go ; for my mother 
thought it foolish to run the risk of crossing the 
Firth, a distance of seven miles, at a late hour, in 
a small open boat and returning in the morning, as 
the weather was always uncertain, and the sea often 
rough from tide and wind. On one occasion, my 
father was at home, and, though it was blowing 
hard, I thought he would not object to accejDting 
the invitation ; but he said, " Were it a matter of 
duty, you should go, even at the risk of your life, 
but for a ball, certainly not." 

We were as poor as ever, even more so ; for my 
father was led into unavoidable expenses in London; 
so, after all the excitement, we returned to our 
more than usually economical life. No events worth 
mentioning happened for a long time. I continued 
my diversified pursuits as usual ; had they been 
more concentrated, it would have been better ; but 
there was no choice ; for I had not the means of 
pursuing any one as far as I could -wish, nor had I 
any friend to whom I could apply for direction or 
information. I was often deeply depressed at 
spending so much time to so little purpose. 



[Mr. Samuel Greig was a distant relation of the 
Charters family. His father, an officer in the British 
navy, had been sent by our government, at the request 
of the Empress Catharine, to organize the Russian navy. 
Mr. Greig came to the Fu'th of Forth on board a Russian 
frigate, and was received by the Fau'faxes at Burntisland 
with Scotch hospitality, as a cousin. He eventually mar- 
ried my mother ; not, however, until he had obtained the 
Russian consvdship, and settled permanently in London, 
for Russia was then governed in the most arbitrary and 
tjTannical manner, and was neither a safe nor a desirable 
residence, and my grandfather only gave his consent to 
the marriage on this condition. My mother says : — 

My cousin, Samuel Greig, commissioner of the 
Russian navy, and Russian consul for Britain, came 
to pay us a visit, and ultimately became my hus- 
band. Fortune I had none, and my mother could 
only afford to give me a very moderate trousseau, 
consisting chiefly of fine personal and bouseliold 

7-i Mary Somerville. 

linen. Wlien I was going away slie gave me 
twenty pounds to buy a shawl or something warm 
for the following winter. I knew that the Presi- 
dent of the Academy of Painting, Sir Arthm- Shee, 
had painted a portrait of my father immediately 
after the battle of Camperdown, and I went to see 
it. The likeness pleased me, — the price was twenty 
pounds ; so instead of a warm shawl I bought my 
father's picture, which I have since given to my 
nephew. Sir William George Fairfax. My husband's 
brother, Sir Alexis Greig, who commanded the 
Eussian naval force in the Black Sea for more than 
twenty years, came to London about this time, and 
gave me some furs, which were very welcome. Long 
after this, I applied to Sir Alexis, at the request 
of Dr. Whewell, Master of Trinity College, Cam- 
bridge, and through his interest an order was 
issued by the Eussian Government for simultaneous 
observations to be made of the tides on every 
sea-coast of the empire. 


Universitt Club, Jan. 5, 1838. 

My dear Mrs. Somerville, 

I enclose a memorandum respecting tide 
observations, to which subject I am desirous of drawing 
the attention of the Eussian Government. Nobody 
Jinows better than you do how much remauas to be done 

First Marriage. 


respecting the tides, and what important results any 
advance in that subject would have. I hope, through 
your Eussian friends, you may have the means of 
brinsfins this memorandum to the notice of the adminis- 
tration of their navy, so as to lead to some steps being 
taken, in the way of directing observations to be 
made. The Eussian Goveniment has shown so much 
zeal in promoting science, that I hope it will not be 
difficult to engage them in a kind of research so easy, 
so useful practically, and so interesting in its theoretical 

Believe me, dear Mrs. Somerville, 
Very faithfully yours, 

W. Whewell. 

4^ ^ ^ ^ ^ 

My husband had taken me to his bachelor's house 
in London, which was exceedingly small and ill 
ventilated. I had a key of the neighbouring square, 
where I used to walk. I was alone the whole of the 
day, so I continued my mathematical and other 
pursuits, but under great disadvantages; for although 
my husband did not prevent me from studying, I 
met with no sympathy whatever from him, as he 
had a very low opinion of the capacity of my sex, 
and had neither knowledge of nor interest in science 
of any kind. I took lessons in French, and learnt 
to speak it so as to be understood. I had no car- 
riage, so went to the nearest church ; but, accus- 


Mary Sonierville. 

tomed to our Scotcli Kirk, I never could sympatliise 
with the coldness and formality of the service of the 
Church of England. However, I thought it my 
duty to go to church and join where I could in 
prayer with the congregation. 

There was no Italian Opera in Edinburgh ; the 
first time I went to one was in London as chaperone 
to Countess Catharine Woronzow, afterwards Coun- 
tess of Pembroke, who was godmother to my eldest 
son. I sometimes spent the evening with her, and 
occasionally dined at the embassy ; but went nowhere 
else till we became acquainted with the family of 
Mr. Thomson Bonar, a rich Russian merchant, who 
lived in great luxury at a beautiful villa at Cbisel- 
hurst, in the neighbourhood of London, which has 
since become the refuge of the ex- Emperor Napoleon 
the Third and the Empress Eugenie. The famil}'- 
consisted of Mr. and Mrs, Bonar,— kind, excellent 
people, — with two sons and a daughter, all grown 
up. We were invited from time to time to spend 
ten days or a fortnight with them, which I enjoyed 
exceedingly. I had been at a riding school in 
Edinburgh, and rode tolerably, but had little prac- 
tice, as we could not afford to keep horses. On our 
first visit, Mrs. Bonar asked me if I would ride with 
her, as there was a good lady's horse to spare, but I 
declined. Next day I said, " I should like to ride 

The Bonars. 


witli you." " Wliy did you not go out with me 
yesterday ?" she asked. "Because I had heard so 
much of EngHsh ladies' riding, that I thought you 
would clear all the hedges and ditches, and that I 
should be left behind lying on the ground." I spent 
many pleasant days with these dear good people ; 
and no words can express the horror I felt when we 
heard that they had been barbarously murdered in 
their bedroom. The eldest son and daughter had 
been at a ball somewhere near, and on coming home 
they found that one of the men-servants had dashed 
out the brains of both their parents with a poker. 
The motive remains a mystery to this day, for it was 
not robbery. 

* » « » « 

[After three years of married life, my mother returned 
to her father's house in Burntisland, a widow, with two 
little boys. The youngest died in childhood. The eldest 
was Woronzow Greig, barrister-at-law, late Clerk of 
the Peace for Surrey. He died suddenly in 1865, to 
the unspeakable sorrow of his family, and the regret of 
all who knew him. 

I was much out of health after my husband's 
death, and chiefly occupied with my children, 
especially with the one I was nursing ; but as 


Mary Somerville. 

I did not go into society, I rose early, and, 
having plenty of time, I resumed my mathe- 
matical studies. By this time I had studied 
plane and spherical trigonometry, conic sections, and 
Fergusson's "Astronomy." I think it was imme- 
diately after my return to Scotland that I attempted 
to read Newton's " Principia." I found it extremely 
difficult, and certainly did not understand it till 
I returned to it some time after, when I studied 
that wonderful work with great assiduity, and wrote 
numerous notes and observations on it. I obtained 
a loan of what I believe was called the Jesuit's 
edition, which helped me. At this period mathe- 
matical science was at a low ebb in Britain ; reverence 
for Newton had prevented men from adopting the 
"Calculus," which had enabled foreign mathema- 
ticians to carry astronomical and mechanical science 
to the highest perfection. Professors Ivory and 
de Morgan had adopted the " Calculus"; but several 
years elapsed before Mr. Herschel and Mr. Babbage 
were joint-editors with Professor Peacock in pub- 
lishing an abridged translation of La Croix's 
"Treatise on the Differential and Integral Cal- 
culus." I became accpainted with Mr. Wallace, 
who was, if I am not mistaken, mathematical 
teacher of the Military College at Marlow, and 
editor of a mathematical journal published there. 



I liaci solved some of the problems contained in 
it and sent them to him, wliich led to a corres- 
pondence, as Mr. Wallace sent me his own solutions 
in retiu-n. Mine were sometimes right and some- 
times wrong, and it occasionally happened that we 
solved the same problem by different methods. At 
last I succeeded in solving a prize problem ! It was 
a diophantine problem, and I was awarded a silver 
medal cast on purpose with my name, which pleased 
me exceedingly. 

Mr. Wallace was elected Professor of Mathematics 
in the University of Edinburgh, and was very kind 
to me. When I told him that I earnestly desired 
to go through a regular course of mathematical and 
astronomical science, even including the highest 
branches, he gave me a list of the requisite books, 
which were in French, and consisted of Francoeur's 
pure " Mathematics," and his " Elements of Me- 
chanics," La Croix's " Algebra," and his large work 
on the " Differential and Integral Calculus," together 
wdth his work on " Finite Differences and Series,'' 
Blot's "Analytical Geometry and Astronomy," 
Poisson's "Treatise on Mechanics," La Grange's 
"Theory of Analj^tical Functions," Euler's "Algebra," 
Euler's " Isoperimetrical Problems" (in Latin), Clair- 
ault's " Figure of the Earth," Monge's " Application 
of Analysis to Geometry," Callet's "Logarithms," 


Mary Somerville. 

La Place's ''Mdcanique Cdleste," and his "Ana- 
lytical Theory of Probabilities," &c., &c., &c * 

I was thirty-three years of age when I bought this 
excellent little library. I could hardly believe that I 
possessed such a treasure when I looked back on the 
day that I first saw the mysterious word " Algebra," 
and the long course of years in which I had perse- 
vered almost without hope. It taught me never to 
despair. I had now the means, and pursued my 
studies with increased assiduity ; concealment was 
no longer possible, nor was it attempted. I was 
coDsidered eccentric and foolish, and my conduct 
was highly disapproved of by many, especially by 
some members of my own family, as will be seen 
hereafter. They expected me to entertain and keep 
a gay house for them, and in that they were disap- 
pointed. As I was quite independent, I did not 
care for their criticism. A great part of the day I 
was occupied with my children ; in the evening I 
worked, played piquet with my father, or played on 
the piano, sometimes with violin accompaniment. 
# » # * * 

This was the most brilliant period of the Edin- 
hurgh Review ; it was planned and conducted with 

* These books and all the other mathematical workfs belon.dnc: t<i my 
mother at the tune of her death have been presented to the College for 
Women, at Girton, Cambridge. 

The Edi7ibii,rgh Review. 81 

consummate talent by a small society of men of the 
most liberal principles. Their powerful articles gave 
a severe and lasting blow to the oppressive and 
illiberal spirit which had hitherto prevailed. I be- 
came acquainted with some of these illustrious men, 
and with many of their immediate successors. I 
then met Henry Brougham, who had so remarkable 
an influence on. my future life. His sister had been, 
my early companion, and while visiting her I saw 
her mother — a fine, intelligent old lady, a niece of 
Eobertson the historian. I had seen the Eev. Sydney 
Smith, that celebrated wit and able contributor to 
the Review, at Burntisland, where he and his wife 
came for sea-bathing. Long afterwards we lived 
on the most friendly terms till their deaths. Of 
that older group no one was more celebrated than. 
Professor Playfair. He knew that I was reading the 
" M^canique Celeste," and asked me how I got on ? 
I told him that I was stopped short by a difficulty 
now and then, but I persevered till I got over it. 
He said, " You would do better to read on for a few 
pages and return to it again, it will then no longer 
seem so difficult." I invariably followed his advice 
and with much success. 

Professor Playfair was a man of the most varied 
accomplishments and of tlie highest scientific dis- 
tinction. He was an elderly man when I first 

82 Mary Somerville. 

became acquainted witli him, by no means good- 
looking, but with a benevolent expression, somewhat 
concealed by the large spectacles he always wore. 
His manner was gravely cheerful ; he was perfectly 
amiable, and was both respected and loved, but he 
could be a severe though just critic. He liked 
female society, and, philosopher as he was, marked 
attention from the sex obviously flattered him. 

I had now read a good deal on the higher branches 
of mathematics and physical astronomy, but as I 
never had been taught, I was afraid that I might 
imagine that I understood the subjects when I really 
did not ; so by Professor Wallace's advice I engaged 
his brother to read with me, and the book I chose 
to study with him was the "M^canique Celeste." Mr. 
John Wallace was a good mathematician, but I soon 
found that I understood the subject as well as he 
did. I was glad, however, to have taken this resolu- 
tion, as it gave me confidence in myself and conse- 
quently courage to persevere. We had advanced 
but little in this work when my marriage with my 
cousin, William Somerville (1812), put an end to 
scientific pursuits for a time. 



[With regard to my father's family, I cannot do better 
than quote what my grandfather, the Rev. Thomas 
Somerville, says in. his " Life and Times " : — " I am a 
descendant of the ancient family of Somerville of Cam- 
busnethan, which was a branch of the Somervilles of 
Drum, ennobled in the year 1424. Upon the death of 
George SomervOle, of Corhouse, fifty years ago, I became 
the only male representative of the family." There is a 
quaint old chi-onicle, entitled "Memorie of the Somer- 
viUes," written by James, eleventh Lord Somerville, who 
died in 1690, which was printed for private distribution, 
and edited by Sir "Walter Scott, and gives ample details 
of all the branches of om' family. Although infinitely 
too prolix for our nineteenth century ideas, it contains 
many curious anecdotes and pictures of Scottish life. 

My father was the eldest son of the minister of Jed- 
burgh, and until his marriage with my mother, had lived 
almost entirely abroad and in our colonies. It was 
always a subject of regret to my mother that my father 
never could be induced to pubHsh an account of his im- 
portant travels in South Africa, for which he had ample 

o 2 


Mary Somerville. 

materials iii the notes lie brought home, many of which 
we still possess. Without being verj'- deeply learned 
on any one special subject, he was generally well- 
informed, and very intelHgent. He was an excellent 
classical scholar, and covild repeat long passages from 
Horace and other authors. He had a lively interest in 
all branches of natm'al history, was a good botanist and 
mineralogist, and could take note of all the strange 
animals, plants, or minerals he saw in his adventurous 
journies in the countries, now colonized, but then the 
hunting-grounds of Caffres and other uncivilized tribes. 
He was the first white man who penetrated so far into 
the country, and it was not without great risk. Indeed, 
on one occasion he was sentenced to death by a Cafifre 
chief, and only saved by the interposition of the chief's 

My father's style in writing English was singularly 
pure and correct, and he was very fastidious on this 
topic — a severe critic, whether in correcting the chil- 
dren's lessons or in reading over the last proof sheets of 
my mother's works previous to their publication. These 
qualities would have fitted him very well to write the 
history of his travels, but he disliked the trouble of it, 
and, never having the slightest ambition on his own 
account, he let the time for pubhcation slip by. Others 
travelled over the country he fii'st explored, and the 
novelty was at an end. He was far happier in helping 
my mother in various ways, searching the libraries for 
the books she required, indefatigably copying and re- 
copying her manuscripts, to save her time. No trouble 
seemed too great which he bestowed upon her ; it was a 
labour of love. My father was most kindlieai-ted, and 
I have often heard my mother say how many persons he 

Dr. Somerville's Character. 


had assisted ia life, and what generous actions he had 
done, many of them requited with ingratitude, and with 
hetraj^al of confidence. From the way my mother speaks 
of their life, it can be seen how happy was their marriage 
and how much sympathy there was between them. 
Speaking of his son's marriage with my mother, the Eev. 
Dr. Somerville says, in his " Life and Times," page 390 : 
" To myself this connection was on every account pecu- 
liarly gratifying. Miss Fairfax had been born and nursed 
in my house ; her father being at that time abroad on 
pubUc service. She afterwards often resided in my 
family, was occasionally my scholar, and was looked 
upon by me and my wife as if she had been one of our 
own children. I can truly say, that next to them she 
was the object of our most tender regard. Her ardent 
thh'st for knowledge, her assiduous apphcation to studj^, 
and her emment proficiency in science and the fine 
arts, have prociu-ed her a celebrity rarely obtained 
by any of her sex. But she never display's any pre- 
tensions to superiority, while the affability of her 
temper, and the gentleness of her manners afford con- 
stant sources of gratification to her friends. But what, 
above all other circu.mstances, rendered my son's choice 
acceptable to me, was that it had been the anxious, 
though secret, deshe of my dear wife." I have abeady 
said that this esteem and affection of her father-in-law 
was warmly responded to by my mother. The following 
letter from her to him shows it vividly : — 


Mary Somerville. 


Edinbuegh, Is* Jwie, 1812. 

.My dear Sm, 

I have this moment been gratified and de- 
lighted with your excellent and alfectionate letter ; the 
intercourse we have so long enjoyed has always been a 
source of the purest pleasure to me, and the land interest 
you have taken from my infancy in my welfare was at all 
times highly flattering, and much valued ; but now that 
the sacred name of Father is added, nothing is wantiag 
to comj)lete my happiness ; and you may rest assui-ed 
that William is not more anxious to hasten our visit to 
Jedburgh than I am. . . . . With the affectionate 
love of aU here, 

I remain your ever most affectionate daughter, 

Mary Somerville. 

P.S. — I am much flattered by the Latin quotation, 
and feel happy that your instructions have enabled me to 
read it. 


[I will now proceed with the extracts from my mother's 
Becollections : — 

My husband had been present at the taking of the 
Cape of Good Hope, and was sent by the authorities 
to make a treaty with the savai^e tribes on the 
borders of the colony, who had attacked the boors, 
or Dutch farmers, and carried oflf their cattle. In 

A Happy DatLgJiter-in-Law. 87 

this journey lie was furnished with a waggon and 
accompanied by Mr. Daniel, a good artist, who made 
drawings of the scenery, as well as of the animals 
and people. The savage tribes again became 
troublesome, and in a second expedition my cousin 
was only accompanied by a faithful Hottentot as 
interpreter. They were both mounted, and each led 
a spare horse with such things as were absolutely 
necessary, and when they bivouacked where, for fear 
of the natives, they did not dare light a fire to keep 
off the wild beasts, one kept watch while the other 
slept. After many adventures and dangers, my 
husband reached the Orange Eiver, and was the first 
white man who had ever been in that part of Africa. 
He afterwards served in Canada and in Sicily at the 
head of the medical staff, under his friend General 
Sir James Craig. On returning to England he 
generally lived in London, so that he was seldom 
with his family, with whom he was not a favourite 
. on account of his liberal principles, the very circum- 
stance that was an attraction to me. He had lived 
in the world, was extremely handsome, had gentle- 
manly manners, spoke good English, and was emanci- 
pated from Scotch prejudices. 

I had been living very quietly with my parents 
and children, so until I was engaged to my cousin 
I was not aware of the extreme severity with which 


Mary Somerville. 

my conduct was criticised by his family, and I liave 
no doubt by many others ; for as soon as our en- 
gagement was known I received a most impertinent 
letter from one of his sisters, who was unmarried, 
and younger than I, saying, she "hoped I would 
give up my foohsh manner of life and studies, and 
make a respectable and useful wife to her brother." 
I was extremely indignant. My husband was still 
more so, and wrote a severe and angry letter to 
her ; none of the family dared to interfere again. * 
I lived in pea.ce with her, but there was a coldness 
and reserve between us ever after. I forgot to 
mention that during my widowhood I had several 
offers of marriage. One of the persons whilst he 
was paying com^t to me, sent me a volume of ser- 
mons with the page ostentatiously turned down at a 
sermon on the Duties of a Wife, which were expa- 
tiated upon in the most illiberal and narrow-minded 
language. I thought this as impertinent as it was 
premature ; sent back the book and refused the 

My uncle, the Kev. Dr. Somerville, was delighted 
with my marriage with his son, for he was liberal, and 
sincerely attached to me. We were married by his 
intimate friend. Sir Henry Moncreiff Wellwood, and 
Bet off for the lakes in Cumberland. My husband's 
second sister, Janet, resolved to go with us, and she 

jfourney to the Lakes. 89 

succeeded tlirouoii the influence of my aunt, now 
my mother-in-law — a very agreeable, but bold, de- 
termined person, who was always very kind and 
sincerely attached to me. We were soon followed 
by my cousin, Samuel Somerville and his wife. We 
had only been a day or two in the little inn at 
Lowood when he was taken ill of a fever, which de- 
tained us there for more than a month. During his 
illness he took a longing for currant jelly, and here 
my cookery was needed ; I made some that was ex- 
cellent, and I never can forget the astonishment ex- 
pressed at my being able to be so useful. 

Somerville and I proceeded to London ; and il 
we managed to obtain a good position near Tem- 
ple Bar to see the Emperor of Eussia, the King 
of Prussia and his sons, Blucher, Platoff, the Het- 
man of the Cossacks, &c,, &c., enter the City. There 
was a brilliant illumination in the evening, and 
great excitement. We often saw these noted persons 
afterwards, but we did not stay long in London, as 
my husband was appointed head of the Army Medi- 
cal Department in Scotland, so we settled in Edin- 
burgh. As he was allowed to have a secretary, he 
made choice of Donald Finlayson, a young man of 
great learning and merit, w^ho was to act as tutor 
to my son, Woronzow Greig, then attending the 
High School, of which Mr. Pillans was master. Mr. 


Mary Somei^ville. 

Finlayson was a remarkably good Greek scholar, and 
my liusband said, " Why not take advantage of such 
an opportunity of improvement ?" So I read Homer 
for an hour every morning before breakfast, Mr. 
Finlayson joined the army as surgeon, and distin- 
guished himself by his courage and humanity during 
the battle of Waterloo ; but he was lost in the march 
of the army to Paris, and his brother George, after 
having sought for him in vain, came to live with 
us in his stead. He excelled in botany, and here 
again, by my husband's advice, I devoted a morning 
hour to that science, though I was nursing a baby at 
the time. I knew the vulgar name of most of the 
plants that Mr. Finlayson had gathered, but now I 
was taught systematically, and afterwards made a 
herbarium, both of land plants and fuci. This 
young man's hopeful career was early arrested by 
his love of science, for he died of jungle fever in 
Bengal, caught while in search of plants. 

Professor Playfair was now old, and resigned his 
chau', which Mr. Leshe was perfectly competent to 
fill on account of his acknowledged scientific acquire- 
ments; but, being suspected of heretical opinions, his 
appointment was keenly opposed, especially on the 
part of the clergy, and a violent contest arose, which 
ended in his favour. We became acquainted with 
him and liked him. He was a man of original genius, 

Professor Leslie. 


lull of information on a variety of subjects, agree- 
able in conversation and good natured, but with a 
singTilar vanity as to personal appearance. Thougb 
one of the coarsest looking men I ever knew, he 
talked so much of polish and refinement that it 
tempted Mr. William Clerk, of Eldin, to make a 
very clever clay model of his ungainly figure. The 
professor's hair was grey, and he dyed it with some- 
thing that made it purple ; and, as at that time the 
iirt was not brought to its present perfection, the 
©^Deration was tedious and only employed at inter- 
vals, so that the professor's hair was often white at 
the roots and dark purple at the extremities. He 
was always falliug in love, and, to Somerville's inex- 
]3ressible amusement, he made me his decoy duck, 
inviting me to see some experiments, which he per- 
formed dexterously ; at the same time telling me to 
bring as many young ladies as I chose, especially 

Miss , for he was sure she had a turn for 

science. He was unfortunate in his aspirations, and 
remained a bachelor to the end of his life. 


It was the custom in Edinburgh, especially among 
the clergy, to dine between the morning and even- 
ing service on Sundays, and to sup at nine or ten 
o'clock. In no family were these suppers more agree- 
able or cheerful than in that of Sir Henry Moncreiff 


Maiy Somerville. 

Wellwooclj minister of the West Kirk. There were 
always a few of the friends of Sir Henry and Lady 
Moncreiff present, and we were invited occasionally. 
There was a substantial hot supper of roasted fowls, 
game, or lamb, and afterwards a lively, animated 
conversation on a variety of subjects, without a shade 
of austerity, though Sir Henry was esteemed an 
orthodox preacher. 

There was an idiot in Edinbm^gh, the son of a 
respectable family, who had a remarkable memory. 
He never failed to go to the Kirk on Sunday, and 
on returning home could repeat the sermon word 
for word, saying, Here the minister coughed, Here 
he stopped to blow his nose. During the tour 
we made in the Highlands we met with another 
idiot who knew the Bible so perfectly that if you 
asked him where such a verse was to be found, 
he could tell Avithout hesitation, and repeat the 
chapter. The common people in Scotland at that 
time had a kind of serious comj)assion for these 
harmless idiots, because " the hand of God was 
upon them." 

The wise as well as the foolish are sometimes 
endowed with a powerful memory. Dr. Gregory, 
an eminent Edinburgh physician, one of the cleverest 
and most agreeable men I ever met with, w\as a 
remarkable instance of this. He wrote and spoke 

Death of Sir William Fairfax. 93 

Latin fluently, and Somerville, who was a good 

Latinist, met witli a Latin quotation in some book lie 

was reading, but not knowing from whence it was 

taken, asked liis friend Dr. Gregory. "It is forty 

years since I read that autlior," said Dr. Gregory, 

" but I think you will find the passage in the 

middle of. such a page." Somerville went for the 

book, and at the place mentioned there it was. 
* * * * * 

I had the grief to lose my dear father at this 
time. He had served sixty-seven years in the 
British Navy, and must have been twice on the 
North American station, for he was present at 
the taking of Quebec by General Wolfe, in 1759, 
and afterwards during the War of Independence. 
After the battle of Camperdown he was made a 
Colonel of Marines, and died, in 1813, Vice-Admiral 
of the Eed. 


Geology, which has now been so far advanced 
as a science, was still in its infancy. Professor Play- 
fair and Mr. Hugh Miller had written on the sub- 
ject ; and in my gay young days, when Lady Helen 
Hall was occasionally my chaperone, I had heard 
that Sir James HaU had taken up the subject, but 
I did not care about it ; I am certain that at that 
time I had never heard the word Geology. I think 


Mary Somerville. 

it was now, on going with Somerville to see the 
Edinburgh Museum, that I recognised the fossil 
plants I had seen in the coal limestone on the 
sands at the Links of Burntisland. Ultimately 
Geology became a favourite pursuit of ours, but 
then minerals were the objects of our joint study. 
Mineralogy had been much cultivated on the Con- 
tinent by this time, especially in Germany. It had 
been established as a science by Werther, who was 
educated at an institution near the silver mines of 
Friburg, where he afterwards lectured on the pro- 
perties of crystals, and had many pupils. In one 
of our tom^s on the Continent, SomerviUe and I 
went to see these silver mines and bought some 
specimens for our cabinet. The French took up 
the subject with great zeal, and the Abbd Haiiy's 
work became .a standard book on the science. 
Cabinets of minerals had been estabhshed in the 
principal cities of Great Britain, professors were 
appointed in the Universities, and collections of 
minerals were not uncommon in private houses. 
While quite a girl, I went with my parents to visit 
the Fergusons of Eaith, near Kirkcaldy, and there I 
saw a magnificent collection of minerals, made by 
their son while abroad. It contained gems of great 
value and crystallized specimens of precious and 
other metals, which surprised and interested me > 

Reminiscences of Sir Walter Scott. 95 

but seeing that such valuable things could never be 
obtained by me, I thought no more about them. 
In those early days I had every difficulty to con- 
tend with ; noWj through the kindness and liberal 
opinions of my husband, I had every encourage- 
ment. He took up the study of mineralogy with 
zeal, and I heartily joined with him. "We made 
the acquaintance of Professor Jameson, a pupil of 
"Werner's, whose work on mineralogy was of great 
use to us. "We began to form a cabinet of minerals, 
which, although small, were good of their kind, "We 
were criticized for extravagance, and, no doubt I 
had the lion's share of blame ; but more of minerals 

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ 

Abbotsford is only twelve miles distant from Jed- 
burgh, and my father-in-law. Dr. Somerville, and Sir 
"Walter Scott had been intimate friendsformanyyears, 
indeed through life. The house at Abbotsford was 
at first a mere cottage, on the banks of the Tweed ; 
my brother-in-law, Samuel, had a villa adjacent to 
it, and John, Lord Somerville, had a house and 
property on the opposite bank of the river, to which 
he came every spring for salmon fishing. He was 
a handsome, agreeable man, had been educated in 
England, and as he thought he should never live 
in Scotland, he sold the family estate of Drum, 


Mary Somerville. 

within five miles of Edinburgh, which he after- 
wards regretted, and bought the property on the 
Tweed he then inhabited. 

Tliere was great intimacy between the three 
families, and the society was often enlivened by 
Adam Ferguson and Willie Clerk, whom we had 
met with at Eaith. I shall never forget the charm 
of this little society, especially the supper-parties at 
Abbotsford, when Scott was in the highest glee, 
telling amusing tales, ancient legends, ghost and 
witch stories. Then Adam Ferguson would sing 
the " Laird of Cockpen," and other comic songs, 
and Willie Clerk amused us with his dry wit. 
When it was time to go away all rose, and, stand- 
ing hand-in-hand round the table, Scott taking the 
lead, we sang in full chorus, 

Weel may we a' be, 
111 may we never see ; 
Health to the king 
And the gude companie. 

At that time no one knew who was the author 
of the Waverley Novels. There was much specu- 
lation and emiosity on the subject. While talking 
about one which had just been published, my son 
Woronzow said, " I knew all these stories long ago, 
for Mr. Scott writes on the dinner-table. "\^Tien he 
has finished, he puts the green-cloth with the papers 

Walter Scott. 


in a corner of the dining-room ; and when he goes 
out, Charlie Scott and I read the stories." My 
son's tutor was the original of Dominie Sampson 
in " Guy Mannering." The " Memorie of the Somer- 
villes " was edited by Walter Scott, from an ancient 
and very quaint manuscript found in the archives 
of the family, and from this he takes passages 
which he could not have found elsewhere. Although 
the work was printed it was never published, but 
copies were distributed to the diflferent members of 
the family. One was of course given to my hus- 

The Burning of the Water, so well described by 
Walter Scott in " Eedgauntlet," we often witnessed. 
The illumination of the banks of the river, the 
activity of the men striking the salmon with the 
" leisters," and the shouting of the people when a 
fish was struck, was an animated, and picturesque, 
but cruel scene. 

Sophia Scott, afterwards married to Mr. Lockhart, 
editor of the "Quarterly Eeview," was the only one of 
Sir Walter's family who had talent. She was not 
pretty, but remarkably engaging and agreeable, and 
possessed her father's joyous disposition as well as 
his memory and fondness for ancient Border legends 
and poetry. Like him, she was thorouglily alive to 
peculiarities of character, and laughed at them 



Mary Somerville. 

good-naturedly. She was not a musician, liad little 
voice, but site sang Scotch songs and translations 
from the Gaelic with, or without, harp accompani- 
ment ; the serious songs with so much expression, 
and the merry ones with so much spirit, that she 
charmed everybody. The death of her brothers and 
of her father, to whom she was devotedly attached, 
cast a shade over the latter part of her life. Mr. 
Lockhart was clever and an able writer, but he was 
too sarcastic to be quite agreeable ; however, we 
were always on the most friendly terms. He was 
of a Lanarkshire family and distantly related to 
Somerville. After the death of his wife and sons, 
Lockhart fell into bad health and lost much of his 

Scott was ordered to go abroad for relaxa- 
tion. Somerville and I happened to be at the sea- 
port where he embarked, and we went to take leave 
of him. He kissed me, and said, "Farewell, my 
dear ; I am going to die abroad like other British 
novelists." Happy would it have been if God 
had so willed it, for he retm^ned completely broken 
down ; his hopes were blighted, his sons dead, and 
his only remaining descendant was a grand-daughter, 
daughter of Mrs. Lockhart. She married Mr. James 
Hope, and soon died, leaving an only daughter, the 
last descendant of Sir Walter Scott. Thus the 

James Veitch. 


Merry, merry clays that I have seen," ended very 


When at Jedburgh, I never failed to visit James 
Veitch, who was Laird of Inchbonny, a small pro- 
perty beautifully situated in the valley of the Jed, 
at a short distance from the manse. He was a 
plough-wright, a hard-working man, but of rare 
genius, who taught himself mathematics and 
iistronomy in the evenings with wonderful success, 
for he knew the motions of the planets, calculated 
eclipses and occultations, was versed in various 
scientific subjects, and made excellent telescopes, of 
i;vhich I bought a very small one ; it was the only 
one I ever possessed. Veitch was handsome, with 
a singularly fine bald forehead and piercing eyes, that 
quite looked through one. He was perfectly aware 
of his talents, shrewd, and sarcastic. His fame had 
spread, and he had many visits, of which he was 
impatient, as it wasted his time. He complained 
especially of those from ladies not much skilled in 
science, saying, "What should they do but ask 
silly questions, when they spend their lives in 
doing naething but spatting muslin ? " Veitch 
was strictly religious and conscientious, observing 
the Sabbath day with great solemnity ; and I 
had the impression that he was stern to his wife, 

H 2 


Mary Somerville. 

who seemed to be a person of intelligence, for 
I remember seeing her come from the washing- 
tub to point out the planet Venus whUe it was 
still daylight. 

The return of Halley's comet, in 1835, exactly 
at the computed time, was a great astronomical 
event, as it was the first comet of long period 
clearly proved to belong to om' system. I was 
asked by Mr. John Murray to write an article on 
the subject for the " Quarterly Eeview." After it 
was published, I received a letter from J ames Veitch, 
reproaching me for having mentioned that a peasant 
in Hungary was the first to see Halley's comet, and 
for having omitted to say that, " a peasant at Inch- 
bonny was the first to see the comet of 1811, the 
greatest that had appeared for a century." I re- 
gretted, on receiving this letter, that I either had not 
known, or had forgotten the circumstance. Veitch 
has been long dead, but I avail myself of this oppor- 
tunity of making the amende honorable to a man 
of great mental power and acquirements who had 
struggled through difficulties, unaided, as I have 
done myself. 

Letter from jfames Veitch. 101 


Inchbonny, \2th October, 1836. 

Dear Madam, 

I saw in the Quarterly review for December 
1835 page 216 that the comet 1682 was discovered by a 
Peasent, George Palitzch residing in the neighbouiliood 
of Dresden on the 25th of December 1758 with a small 
Telescope. But no mention is made of the Peasent . at 
Inchbonny who first discovered the beautiful comet 1811. 
You wiU remember when Dr. Wollaston was at Inch- 
bonny I j)ut a difficult question to him that I could not 
solve about the focal distance of optic glasses when the 
Dr. got into a i^assion and said : Had he problems in his 
l)ocket ready to jjull out in every occasion ? and with an 
angrj'^ look at me said, You pretend to be the first that 
discovered the comet altlio' it has been looked for by 
men of science for some time back. Now I never heard 
of such a thing and you will perhaps know sometliing 
about it as the Dr. would not be mistaken. After we 
got acquainted, the Dr. was a warm friend of mine and 
I have often regretted that I had not improved the 
opportunity I had when he was here on many things 
he was master off. What ever others had Imown or 
expected I knew nothing about. But I know this, that on 
the 27th of August 1811 I first saw it in the NNW. 
part of the Heavens nigh the star marked 26 on the 
shoulder of the little Lion and continued treacing its 
jiath among the fixed stars untill it dissapeared and it 
was generally admitted that I had discovered it four 
days before any other person in Britain. However 
Mr. Thomas Dick on the Diffusion of Knowledge page 


Mary Somerville. 

101 and 102 has made the following obsei*vation ' The 
si^lendid comet which ajDpeared iii our hemisphere in 
1811 was first discovered in this countrj'- by a sawer. 
The name of this Gentleman is Mr, Veitch and I 
believe he resides in the neighbourhood of Kelso who 
with a Eeflecting telescope of his own construction and 
from his sawpit as an observatoiy, descried that celestial 
visitant before it had been noticed by any other 
astronomer in North Britain.' A strange storj' — a 
sawer and a gentleman ; and what is stranger still 
Mr. Baily would not have any place but the sawpit 
for his observatory on the 15th May last. I am sorry 
to say with all the improvement and learning that we 
can host of in the jjresent day Hallej'^'s comet the- 
predictions have not been fulfilled, either with resjiect 
to time or place. Thus on the 10 October, at 50' 
minutes past 5 in the evening the Eight ascension of 
the comet was 163° 37', with 63° 38' of north declina- 
tion but by the nautical almanac for the 10 October 
its right ascension ought to have been 225° 2' 6, and 
its declination 29° 33'. Hence the difference is no lesS' 
than 61° in Eight ascension and 34° in declination^ 
"When you have time, write me. 

Dear Madam, I remain, 

Yom'S sincerely, 

James Veitch. 

Sir David Brewster was many years younger than 
James Veitch; in his early years he assisted his 
father in teaching the parish-school at Jedburgh, 
and in the evenings he went to Inchbonny to study 



astronomy witli James Veitch, wlio always called liim 
Davie. They were as much puzzled about the mean- 
ing of the word parallax as I had been with regard to 
the word algebra, and only learnt what it meant when 
Brewster went to study for the kirk in Edinburgh. 
They were both very devout ; nevertheless, Brewster 
soon gave up the kirk for science, and he devoted 
himself especially to optics, in which he made so 
many discoveries. Sir David was of ordinary 
height, with fair or saiidy-coloured hair and blue 
eyes. He was by no means good-looking, yet with 
a very pleasant, amiable expression ; in conversa- 
tion he was cheerful and agreeable when quite at 
ease, but of a timid, nervous, and irritable tempera- 
ment, often at war with his fellow-philosophers 
upon disputed subjects, and extremely jealous 
upon priority of discovery. I was much indebted 
to Sir David, for he reviewed my book on the 
"Connexion of the Physical Sciences," in the April 
number of the "Edinburgh Review" for 1834, and 
the " Physical Geography " in the April number 
of the " North British Review," both favourably. 




[My father was appointed, in 1816, a member of the 
Army Medical Board, and it became necessary for him 
to reside in London, He and my mother accordingly 
wished farewell to Scotland, and proceeded to talve up 
their residence in Hanover Square. My mother pre- 
served the following recollections of this joui'uey : — 

On our way we stopped a day at Birmingliam, 
on purpose to see Watt and Boulton's manu- 
factory of steam engines at Solio. Mr. Boulton 
showed us everything. The engines, some in action, 
although beautifully smooth, showed a power that 
was almost fearful. Since these early forms of the 
steam engine I have lived to see this all but onmipo- 
tent instrument change the locomotion of the whole 
civilized world by sea and by land. 

Soon after our arrival in London we became 
acquainted with the illustrious family of the 
Herschels, through the kindness of our friend Pro- 

The Herschel Family, 105 

fessor Wallace, for it was by his arrangement that 
we spent a day with Sir William and Lady Herschel, 
iit Slousfh. Nothins; could exceed the kindness of 
Sir William. He made us examine his celebrated 
telescopes, and explained their mechanism ; and he 
showed us the manuscripts which recorded the 
numerous astronomical discoveries he had made. 
They were all arranged in the most perfect order, 
as was also his musical library, for that great genius 
was an excellent musician. Unfortunately, his sister. 
Miss Caroline Herschel, who shared in the talents 
of the family, was abroad, but his son, afterwards 
Sir John, my dear friend for many years, was at 
home, quite a youth. It would l^e difficult to 
name a branch of the physical sciences which he 
has not enriched by important discoveries. He has 
ever been a dear and valued friend to me, whose 
advice and criticism I gratefully acknowledge. 

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ 

I took lessons twice a week from Mr. Glover, who 
painted landscapes very prettily, and I liked him on 
account of his kindness to animals, especially birds, 
which he tamed so that they flew before him when 
he walked, or else sat on the trees, and returned to 
him when he whistled. 1 regret now that I ever 
resumed my habit of painting in oil ; water-colours 
are much better suited to an amateur, but as I had 

lOG . Mary Sovierville. 

never seen any that were good, I was not aware of 
their beauty. 

I also took lessons in mineralogy from Mrs. 
Lowry, a Jewess, the wife of an eminent line 
engraver, who had a large collection of minerals, 
and in the evening Somerville and I amused our- 
selves mth our own, which were not numerous. 

Our house in Hanover Square was within a walk- 
ing distance of many of our friends, and of the 
Eoyal Institution in Albemarle Street, where I 
attended the lectures, and Somer\dlle frequently 
went with me. The discoveries of Sir Humphr}' 
Davy made this a memorable epoch in the annals of 
chemical science. At this time there was much talk 
about the celebrated Count Rumforcl's steam kitchen, 
by which food was to be cooked at a very small 
expense of fuel. It was adopted by several peoj)le, 
and among others by Naldi, the opera singer, who 
invited some friends to dine the first day it was to 
be used. Before dinner they all went to see the 
new invention, but while Naldi was explaining its 
structure, it exploded and killed him on the spot. 
By this sad accident his daughter, a pretty girl and 
a good singer, was left destitute. A numerously- 
attended concert was given for her benefit, at which 
Somerville and I were present. She was soon after 
engaged to sing in Paris, but ultimately married the 

The Prince de Cond^. 


Comte de Spaire, a French gentleman, and left tli(? 

When MM. Arago and Biot came to England to 
continue the French arc of the meridian through 
Great Britain, they were warmly received by the 
scientific men in London, and we were always in- 
vited to meet them by those whom we knew. They 
had been told of my turn for science, and that I had 
read the works- of La Place. Biot expressed his 

surprise at my youth. 

* * * * * 

One summer Somerville proposed to make a tour 
in Switzerland, so we set off, and on arriving 
at Chantilly we were told that we might see the 
chateau upon giving our cards to the doorkeeper. 
On reading our name, Mademoiselle de Eohan came 
to meet us, saying that she had been at school in 
England with a sister of Lord Somerville's, and was 
glad to see any of the family. She presented us to 
the Prince de Conde, a fine-looking old man, who 
received us very courteously, and sent the lord-in- 
waiting to show us the grounds, and especially the 
stables, the only part of the castle left in its regal 
magnificence after the Eevolution. The Prince and 
the gentleman who accompanied us wore a gaudy 
uniform like a livery, which we were told was the 
Chantilly uniform, and that at each palace belonging 

Mary Soinerville. 

to the Prince there was a different unifonu worn by 
him and his court. 

At Paris we were received with the kindest hos- 
pitality by M. and Mme. Arago. I liked her 
much, she was so gentle and ladylike ; he was tall 
and good-looking, with an animated countenance 
and black eyes. His character Avas noble, generous, 
and singularly energetic ; his manners lively and even 
gay. He was a man of very general information, 
and, from his excitable temperament, he entered as 
ardently into the ^^olitics and passing events of the 
time as into science, in which few had more exten- 
sive knowledge. On this account I thought his 
conversation more brilliant than that of any of the 
French savans with whom I was acquainted. They 
were living at the Observatory, and M. Arago 
showed me all the instruments of that magnificent 
establishment in the minutest detail, which was 
highly interesting at the time, and proved more 
useful to me than I was aware of. M. Arago made 
us acquainted with the Marquis de la Place, and the 
Marquise, who was quite an elegante. The ]\Iarquis 
was not tall, l3ut thin, upright, and rather formal. 
He was distinguished in his manners, and I thought 
there was a little of the courtier in them, perhaps from 
having been so much at the court of the Emperor 
Napoleon, who had the highest regard for him. 

Arago and La Place. 109 

Though incompcarably superior to Arago in mathe- 
matics and astronomical science, he was inferior to 
him in general acquirements, so that his conversa- 
tion was less varied and popular. We were invited 
to go early and spend' a day with them at Arcoeuil, 
Avhere they had a country house. M. Arago had 
told M. de la Place that I had read the " Meca- 
nique Celeste," so we had a great deal of conversation 
about astronomy and the calculus, and he gave me 
a copy of his Systeme du Monde," Avith his in- 
scri]3tion, which pleased me exceedingly. I spoke 
French very badly, but I was less at a loss on scien- 
tific subjects, because almost all my books on science 
were in French. The party at dinner consisted of 
MM. Biot, Arago, Bouvard, and Poisson. I sat 
next M. de la Place, who was exceedingly kind 
and attentive. In such an assemblage of philoso- 
phers I expected a very grave and learned conversa- 
tion. But not at all ! Everyone talked in a gay, 
animated, and loud key, especially M. Poisson, who 
had all the vivacity of a Frenchman. Madame 
Biot, from whom we received the greatest attention, 
made a party on purpose, as she said, to show us, 
" les personnes distingu^es." Madame Biot was a 
well-educated woman, and had made a translation 
from the German of a work, which was published 
Under the name of her husband. The dinner was 


Mary So?nerville. 

very good, and Madame Biot was at great pains in 
placing every one. Those present were Monsieur 
and Madame Arago, Monsieur and Madame Poisson, 
wlio had only been married the day before, and 
Baron Humboldt. The conversation was lively and 

The consulate and empire of the first Napoleon 
was the most brilliant period of physical astronomy 
in France. La Grange, who proved the stability of 
the solar system, La Place, Biot, Arago, Bouvard, 
and afterwards Poinsot, formed a perfect constella- 
tion of undying names ; yet the French had been 
for many years inferior to the English in practical 
astronomy. The observations made at Greenwich 
by Bradley, Maskelyn, and Pond, have been so ad- 
mirably continued under the direction of the present 
astronomer-royal, Mr. Airy, the first practical astro- 
nomer in Europe, that they have furnished data for 
calculating the astronomical tables both in France 
and England. 

The theatre was at this time very brilliant in 
Paris. We saw Talma, who was considered to be 
the first tragedian of the age in the character of Tan- 
cr^de. I admired the skill "svith which he overcame 
the disagreeable effect which the rhyme of the French 
tragedies has always had on me. Notwithstand- 
ing his personal advantages, I thought him a gTeat 

Cuvier. Ill 

artist, though inferior to John Kemble. I am afraid 
my admii-ation of Shakespeare, my want of sym- 
pathy with the artificial style of French tragedy, 
and perhaps my youthful remembrance of our great 
tragedian Mrs. Siddons, made me unjust to Made- 
moiselle Duchenois, who, although ugly, was cer- 
tainly an excellent actress and a favourite of the 
public. I was so fond of the theatre that I enjoyed 
comedy quite as much as tragedy, and was delighted 
with Mademoiselle Mars, whom we saw in Tartufie. 
Some years later I saw her again, when, although 
an old woman, she still appeared handsome and 
young upon the stage, and was as graceful and 
lively as ever. 

Soon after our dinner party at Arcoeuil, we went 
to pay a morning visit to Madame de la Place. It 
was late in the day; but she received us in bed 
elegantly dressed. I think the curtains were of 
muslin with some gold ornaments, and the coverlet 
was of rich silk and gold. It was the first time that 
I had ever seen a lady receive in that manner. 
Madame de La Place was lively and agreeable ; I 
liked her very much. 

We spent a most entertaining day with M. and 
Madame Cuvier at the Jardin des Plantes, and saw 
the Museum, and everything in that celebrated 
establishment. On returning to the house, we 


Mary Soinerville. 

found several people liad come to spend tlie 
evening, and tlie conversation was carried on with 
a good deal of spirit ; the Countess Albrizzi, 
a Venetian lady, of high acquirements, joined in 
it with considerable talent and animation, Cuvier 
had a very remarkable countenance, not hand- 
some, but agreeable, and his manner was pleasing 
and modest, and his conversation very interest- 
ing. Madame de Stael having died lately, was 
much discussed. She was much praised for her 
good-nature, and for the brilliancy of her conversa- 
tion. They agreed, that the energy of her character, 
not old age, had worn her out. Cuvier said, the 
force of her imagination misled her judgment, and 
made her see things in a light different from all 
the world. As a proof of this, he mentioned 
that she makes Corinne lean on a marble lion 
which is on a tomb in St. Peter's, at Rome, 
more than twenty feet high. Education was 
very much discussed. Cuvier said, that when he 
was sent to inspect the schools at Bordeaux and 
Marseilles, he found very few of the scholars who 
could perform a simple calculation in arithmetic ; 
as to science, history, or literature, they were un- 
known, and the names of the most celebrated 
French philosophers, famed in other countries, were 
utterly unknown to those who lived in the pro- 

Mr. Pcnlland. 


vinces. M. Biot liad written home, that he had 
found in Aberdeen not one alone, but many, who 
■ perfectly understood the object of his journey, and 
were competent to converse with him on the sub- 
ject. Cuvier said such a circumstance constituted 
■one of the striking differences between Franco and 
England; for in France science was highly cultivated, 
but confined to the capital. It was at M. Cuvier' s 
that I first met Mr. Pentland, who made a series of 
physical and geological observations on the Andes 
of Peru. I was residing in Italy when I published 
my "Physical Geography," and Mr. Pentland* kindly 
undertook to carry the book through the press for 
me. From that time he has been a steady friend, 
ever ready to get me information, books, or any- 
thing I wanted. We became acquainted also with 
M. Gay-Liissac, who lived in the Jardin des Plantes, 
and Avith Baron Larrcy, who had been at the head 
of the medical department of the army in Egypt 
under the first Napoleon. 

* * * * * 

At Paris I equipped myself in proper dresses, and 
we proceeded by Fontainebleau to Geneva, where 
we found Dr. Marcet, with whom my husband had 

* Joseph Barclay Pentland, Consul-General in Bolivia (183G-39), died 
in London, July, 1873. He first discovered that Illimani and Sorata 
(not Chimborazo) were the highest mountains in America. (Sc3 
Humboldt's " Kosmos.' ) 


Mary Somervillc. 

already been acquainted in London. I, for tlio 
first time, met Mrs. Marcet, with whom I have ever 
lived on terms of affectionate friendship. So many 
books have now been published for young people, 
that no one at this time can duly estimate the im- 
jDortance of Mrs. Marcet's scientific works. To them 
is partly owing that higher intellectual education 
now beginning to prevail among the better classes 
in Britain. They produced a great sensation, and 
went through many editions. Her " Conversations 
on Chemistry," first opened out to Faraday's mind 
that field of science in which he became so illus- 
trious, and at the height of his fame he always men- 
tioned Mrs. Marcet with deep reverence. 

Through these kind friends we became acquainted 
with Professors De Candolle, Prevost, and De la Ptive. 
Other distinguished men were also presented to us ; 
amono- these was Mr. Sismondi, author of the " His- 
tory of the Italian Eepublics." Madame Sismondi 
was a Miss Allen, of a family vfith whom we were 
very intimate. 

[Some time alter her return to England, my mother, 
desu'ous of continuing the study of botany, in -which she 
hud already attained considerable proficiencj-, wrote to 
M. De Candolle, asldng his advice, and he sent her the 
following reply : — 

De CaiidoUe. 



LONDEES, 5 Jidn, 1819. 


Vous avez passe les premieres clifncultes de 
retiide des plantes et vons me faites I'honneur de me 
consulter sur les moyens d'aller en avant ; connaissant 
votre govit et votre talent pom- les sciences les plus 
relevees je ne 'craindrai point de vous engager a sortir 
de la Botanique elementaire et a vous elever aux con- 
siderations et aux etudes qui en font une science sus- 
ceptible d'idees generales, d'applications aux clioses 
utiles et de liaison avec les autres branches des con- 
naissances liumaines. Pour cela il faut etudier non plus 
seulement la nomenclatiu'e et I'ecliafaudage artificiel 
qui la soutientj mais les rapports des plantes entre elles 
et avec les elemens exterieurs, ou en d'autres termes, la 
classification naturelle et la Phj'siologie. 

Pour I'un et I'autre de ces branches de la science il est 
necessah'e en premier lieu de se familiariser avec la 
structure des plantes consideree dans leur caractere 
exacte. Vous trouverez un precis abrege de ces carac- 
teres dans le 1'^'" vol. de la Flore fran^aise ; vous la 
trouverez plus developpe et accompagne de planches dans 
les Elemens de Botanique de Michel. Quant a la struc- 
ture du fruit qui est un des points les plus difficiles et 
les plus importans, vous allez avoh' un bon ouvrage 
traduit et augmente par un de vos jeunes et habiles com- 
patriotes, Mr. Lindlej^ — c'est I'analj'se du fruit de M. 
Richard. La traduction vaudra mieux que I'original. 
Outre ces lectures, ce qui vous apprendra surtout la 
structure des plantes, c'est de les analj^ser et de les 

I 2 


Mary Somervilie. 

dccrire vous-mcme d'apres les tennes teclmiques ; ce 
travail deviendrait ponible et inutile a faire sur ixn grand 
nombre de plantes, et il vaiit mieux ne le faii'e que sui' 
tin tres petit nombre d'especes choisies dans des classes 
tres distinctes. Quelques descriptions faites aussi com- 
pletes qu'il vous sera possible vous apprendi-a plus que 
tons les livres. 

Des que vous connaitrez bien les organes et concur- 
remment avec cette etude vous devrez clierclier a prendre 
ime idde de la classification naturelle. Je crains de vous 
paraitre presomptiteux en vous engageant a lii-e d'abord 
sous ce point de vue ma Theorie elementaii-e. Apres 
ces etudes ou a peu pres en meme temps poiu* profiter 
de la saison, vous ferez bien de rapporter aux ordres 
naturels toutes les plantes que vous aurez recueillies. 
La lecture des caracteres des families faites la plante a 
la main et I'acte de ranger vos plantes en families vous 
feront connaitre par tlieorie et par pratique ces gi'oupes 
naturels. Je vous engage dans cette etude, surtout en le 
commencement, a ne donner que peu d'atteution au 
systeme general qui lie les families, mais beaucoup a la 
connaissance de la pbj'sionomie qui est propre a cbacune 
d'elles. Sous ce point de vue vous pourrez trouver 
quelque interet a lire — 1° les Tableaux de la Natm'e de 
M. de Humboldt; 2" mon essai sur les proi?rietes des 
plantes comparees avec leurs formes extdriem-es; 3° les 
remarques sur la geographie botanique de la Nouvelle 
HoUande et de I'Afrique, ins6-es par M. Eobt. Brown 
a la fin du voyage de Finders et de I'expedition au 

Quant a I'etude de la Physiologic ou de la connais- 
sance des vegetaux considerds comme etres vivans, je 
vous engage a lire les ouvrages dans I'ordre suivant : 

De Candolle. 


Philibert, Elemens de Bot. et de Plij's., 3 vols. ; la S'li^ 
pai'tie des principes elementaires de la Bot. de la Flore 
francaise. Vous trouverez la i^artie anatomiqiie dans 
I'ouvrage de Mii'bel ; la partie chimiqiie dans les 
recherches cliimiques sur la Veget. de T. de Saussure ; 
la partie statique dans la statique des vegetaux de 
Hales, &c. &c. Mais je vous engage surtout a voir par 
vous-meme les plantes a tons leurs ages, a suivre leur 
vegetation, a les decrire en detail, en un mot a vivre avec 
elles plus qu'avec les livres. 

Je desii'e, madame, que ces conseils puissent vous 
engager fi suivre I'etude des plantes sous cette dii'ection 
qui je crois en releve beaucoup I'importance et I'interet. 
Je m'estimerai heureux si en vous I'indiquant je puis 
concourir a vos succcs futures et a vous initier dans une 
etude que j'ai toujours regarde comme une de celles 
qui pent le plus contribuer au bonheui- journalier. 

Je vous prie d'agreer mes liommages empresses. 

De Candolle. 

We had made tlie ordinary short tour through 
SwitzerLand, and had arrived at Lausanne on our 
way home, when I was taken ill with a severe fever 
which detained us there for many weeks. I shall 
never forget the kindness I received from two Miss 
Barclays, Quaker ladies, and a Miss Fotheringham, 
who, on hearing of my illness, came and sat up 
alternate nights with me, as if I had been their 

The winter was now fast approaching, and Somer- 


Mary Somerville. 

ville tliouglit that in my weak state a warm climate 
was necessary ; so we arranged with our friends, the 
Miss Barclays, to pass the Simplon together. We 
parted company at Milan, but we renewed our 
friendship in London. 

"We went to Monza, and saw the iron crown ; and 
there I found the Magnolia grandiflora, Avhich 
hitherto I had only known as a greenhouse plant, 
rising almost into a forest tree. 

At Venice we renewed our acquaintance with the 
Countess Albrizzi, who received every evening. It 
was at these receptions that v/e saw Lord B}Ton, but 
he would not make the accjuaintance of any English 
people at that time. When he came into the room I 
did not perceive his lameness, and thought him 
strikingly like my brother Henry, who was remark- 
ably handsome. I said to Somerville, "Is Lord 
Byron like anyone you know ? " " Your brother 
Henry, decidedly." Lord Broughton, then Sir John 
Cam Hobhouse, was also present. 

At Florence, I was presented to the Countess of 
Albany, Avidow of Prince Charles Edward Stuart 
the Pretender. She was then supposed to be married 
to Alfieri the poet, and had a kind of state reception 
every evening. I did not like her, and never went 
again. Her manner was proud and insolent. " So 
you don't speak Italian ; you must have had a very 

Countess of Albany. 


"bad education, for Miss Clepliane Maclane there 
[wlio was close by] speaks botli Frencli and Italian 
perfectly." So saying, slie turned away, and never 
^iddressed anotlier word to me. That evening I 
recognised in Countess Moretti my old friend 
Agnes Bonar. Moretti Avas of good family ; but, 
having been banished from home for political 
opinions, he taught the guitar in London for bread, 
and an attachment was formed between him and 
his pupil. After the murder of her parents, they 
were both persecuted witli the most unrelenting 
■cruelty by her brother. They escaped to Milan 
where they were married. 

I was still a young woman ; but I thought myself 
too old to learn to speak a foreign language, conse- 
quently I did not try. I spoke French badly ; and 
now, after several years' residence in Italy, although 
I can carry on a conversation fluently in Itahan, I 
■do not speak it well. 

[AVhen iii_y mother first went abroad, she had no 
fluency hi talking French, although she was well ac- 
quainted with the literature. To show how, at every 
period of her life, she missed no opportunity of acquiring 
information or improvement, I may mention that many 
years after, Avhen we were spending a summer in 
Siena, where the language is spoken with great purity 
and elegance, she engaged a lady to converse in Italian 
with her for a couple of hours daily. this means 


Mary Somerville. 

slie very soon became perfectl}- fomiliar with the language, 
and couhl keep np conversation in Italian without diffi- 
culty. She never cared to write in any language but 
English. Her stjde has been reckoned particularly clear 
and good, and she was complimented on it by various 
competent judges, although she herself was always diffi- 
dent about her writings, saying she was only a self- 
taught, uneducated Scotchwoman, and feared to use 
Scotch idioms inadvertentl3\ In speaking she had a 
very decided but pleasant Scotch accent, and when 
aroused and excited, Avould often unconsciously use not 
only native idioms, but quaint old Scotch words. Her 
voice was soft and low, and her manner earnest. 

On our way to Eome, wliere we spent the winter of 
1817, it was startlino; to see the fine cliurch of Santa 
Maria degli Angeli, below Assisi, cut in two ; half 
of the church and half of the dome above it were 
still entire ; the rest had been thrown down by the 
eartlic|uake which had destroyed the neighbouring 
town of Foligno, and committed such ravages in 
this part of Umbria. 

At that time I might have been pardoned if I had 
described St. Peter's, the Vatican, and the innume- 
rable treasures of art and antiquity at Eome ; but 
now that they are so well known it would be 
ridiculous and superfluous. Here I gained a little 
more knowledge about pictures ; but I preferred- 
sculpture, partly from the noble specimens of Greek 

Thoi zvaldseii and Cannva. 


art I saw in Paris aud Kome, and partly because I 
was sucli an enthusiast about the language and 
everything belonging to ancient Greece. During 
this journey I was highly gratified, for we made the 
acquaintance of Thorwaldsen and Canova. Canova 
Avas gentle and amiable, with a beautiful counte- 
nance, and was an artist of great reputation. Thor- 
Avaldscn had a noble and striking appearance, and 
had more power and originality than Canova. His 
bas-reliefs Avere greatly admired. I saw the one he 
made of Night in the house of an English lady, who 
had a talent for modelling, and was said to be 
attached to him. We were presented to Pope Pius 
the Seventh ; a handsome, gentlemanly, and amiable 
old man. Pie received us in a summer-house in the 
garden of the Vatican. He was sitting on a sofa, 
and made me sit beside him. His manners were 
simple and very gracious ; he spoke freely of what 
he had suffered in France. He said, "God forbid 
that he should bear ill-will to any one; but the 
journey and the cold were trying to an old man, and 
he was glad to return to a warm climate and to his 
own country." When we took leave, he said to me, 
"Though a Protestant, you will be none the worse 
for an old man's blessing." Pius the Seventh was 
loved and respected ; the people knelt to him as he 
passed. Many years afterwards we Avere pre- 


Mary Somerville. 

sentccT to Gregory the Sixteenth, a very common- 
looking man, forming a great contrast to Pius the 

I heard more o-ood music durinsj this first visit to 
Rome than I ever did after ; for besides tliat usual 
in St. Peter's, there was an Academia every week, 
Avhere ]\Iarcello's Psalms were sung in concert by a 
number of male voices, besides other concerts, private 
and |)ublic. We did not make the acquaintance of 
any of the Roman families at this time ; but we saw 
Pauline Borghese, sister of the Emperor Napoleon, 
so celebrated for her beauty, walking on the Pincio 
every afternoon. Our great geologist, Sir Roderick 
Murchison, with his wife, were among the English 
residents at Rome. At that time he hardly knew 
one stone from another. He liad been an officer in 
the Dragoons, an excellent horseman, and a keen 
fox-hunter. Lady IMurchison, — an amiable and ac- 
complished woman, with solid acc[uirements which 
few ladies at that time possessed — had taken to 
the study of geology ; and soon- after her husband 
besan that career which has rendered him the first 
geologist of our country. It was then that a 
friendship began between them and us, which will 
only end with life. Mrs. Fairfax, of Gilling Castle, 
and lier two handsome daughters were also at 
Rome. She ^A\as my namesake — Mary Fairfax — and 



my valued friend till her death. Now, alas ! many 
■of these friends are gone. 

There were such troops of brigands in the Papal 
■States, that it was considered unsafe to go outside 
the gates of Eome. They carried off people to the 
mountains, and kept them till ransomed ; sometimes 
•even mutilated them, as they do at the present day 
in the kingdom of Naples. Lucien Bonaparte made 
a narrow escape from being carried off from his villa. 
Villa Kuffinella, near Frascati. When it could be 
proved that brigands had committed murder, they 
were confined in prisons in the Maremma, at Campo ' 
Morto, where fever prevails, and where they were 
supposed to die of malaria. I saw Gasperone, the 
chief of a famous band, in a prison at Civita Vccchia ; 
he was said to be a relative of Cardinal Antonelli, 
both comino; from the brio-and villag-e of Sonnino, in 

CD O O ' 

the Volscian mountains. In going to Naples our 
friends advised us to take a guard of soldiers ; but 
these were suspected of being as bad, and in league 
with the brigands. So we travelled post without 
them ; and though I foolishly insisted on going round 
by the ruins of ancient Capua, which was considered 
very unsafe, we arrived at Naples without any 
■encounter. Here we met with the son and daughter 
of Mr. Smith, of Norwich, a celebrated leader in the 
iinti-slavery question. This Avas a bond of interest 

Mary Somervillc. 

between liis family and me ; for when I was a girl I 
took the anti-slavery cause so warmly to heart that 
I would not take sugar in my tea, or indeed taste 
anything with sugar in it. I was not singular in 
this, for my cousins and many of my acquaintances 
came to the same resolution. How long we kept it 
I do not remember. Patty Smith and I became 
great friends, and I knew her sisters ; but only 
remember her niece Florence Nightingale as a very 
little child. My friend Patty was liberal in her 
opinions, witty, original, an excellent horsewoman, 
and drew cleverly ; but from bad health she was 
peculiar in all her habits. She Avas a good judge 
of art. Her father had a valuable collection of 
pictures of the ancient masters ; and I learnt much 
from her mtli regard to paintings and style in 
drawing. We went to see everything in Naples and 
its environs together, and she accompanied Somer- 
ville and me in an expedition to Psestum, where we 
made sketches of the temples. At Naples we bought 
a beautiful cork model of the Temple of Neptune, 
which was placed on our mineral cabinet on our 
return to London. A lady who came to pay me a 
morning visit asked Somerville what it Avas ; and 
when he told her, she said, " How cbeadful it is to 
think that all the people who worshipped in that 
temple arc in eternal misery, because they did not 


Relieve in our Saviour," Somerville asked, "How- 
could tliey believe in Christ when He w^as not 
born till many centuries after?" I am sure she 
thouo-ht it Avas all the same, 

# * * » * 

There had been an eruption of Vesuvius just, 
before our arrival at Naples, and it was still 
smoking very much ; however, Ave ascended it, 
and walked round the crater, running and holding 
a handkerchief to our nose as we passed through the 
smoke, w^hen the wind blew it to our side. The 
crater Avas just like an empty funnel, wdde at the 
mouth, and narrowing to a throat. The lava AA^as 
hard enough to bear us ; but there Avere numerous 
fumeroles, or red-hot chasms, in it, AA'hich Ave could 
look into. Somerville bought a number of crystals 
from the guides, and Avent repeatedly to Portici 
afterwards to complete our collection of volcanic 

They Avere excavating busily at Pompeii ; at that 
time, and in one of our many excursions there 
Somerville bought from one of the Avorkmen a 
bronze statuette of Minerva, and a very fine rosso 
antico Terminus, wdiich Ave contrived to smugo-le 
into Naples; and it noAv forms part of a small 
but excellent collection of antiques wdiich I stiU 
possess. The excavations at that period Avere con- 


Mary Soincrville. 

ducted with little regularity or direction, and tlie 
guides were able to carrj'- on a contraband trade 
as mentioned. Since the annexation of the Nea- 
politan provinces to the kingdom of Italy, the 
Cavaliere Fiorelli has organized the system of ex- 
cavations in the most masterly manner, and has 
made many interesting discoveries. About one- 
third of the town has been excavated since it was 
discovered till the present day. 

In passing through Bologna, avc became ac- 
quainted with the celebrated Mezzofanti, after- 
wards Cardinal. He was a quiet-looking priest; 
we could not see anything in his countenance that 
indicated talent, nor was his conversation remark- 
able ; yet he told us that he understood fifty-two 
lans;uao;es. He left no memoir at his death ; nor 
did he ever trace any connection between these 
languages ; it was merely an astonishing power, 
which led to nothing, like that of a young American 
I lately heard of, who could play eleven games 
at chess at the same time, without looking at any 



When we returned to Hanover Square, I devoted 
my morning hours, as usual, to domestic affairs ; 
but now ni}- children occupied a good deal of my 
time. Although still very young, I thought it ad- 
visable for them to acquire foreign languages ; so I 
engaged aFrench nursery-maid, that they might never 
suffer what I had done from ignorance of modern 
lano-uao-es. I besides 2;ave them instruction in such 
things as I was capable of teaching, and which were 
suited to their age. 

It was a great amusement to Somervillc and 
myself to arrange the minerals we had collected 
during our journey. Our cabinet was now very rich. 
Some of our specimens we had bought ; our friends 
had given us duplicates of those they possessed ; 
and George Finlayson, who was with our troops in 
Ceylon, and who had devoted all his spare time to 
the study of the natural ^productions of the country, 


Mary So7nerville. 

sent us a valuable collection of crystals of sapphire, 
ruby, oriental topaz, amethyst, &c., &c. Somerville 
used to analyze minerals with the blowpipe, wliicli 
I never did. One evening, when he was so occu- 
pied, I was playing the piano, when suddenly I 
fainted ; he was very much startled, as neither I 
nor any of our family had ever done such a thing. 
When I recovered, I said it was the smell of 
garlic that had made me ill. The truth was, the 
mineral contained arsenic, and I was poisoned for 
the time by the fumes. 

At this time we formed an acquaintance with Dr. 
Wollaston, which soon became a lasting friendshi^^. 
He was gentlemanly, a cheerful companion, and a 
philosopher ; he was also of agreeable appearance, 
having a remarkably fine, intellectual head. He 
was essentially a chemist, and discovered palladium ; 
but there were few branches of science with which 
he was not more or less acquainted. He made ex- 
periments to discover imponderable matter; I believe, 
with reo-ard to the ethereal medium. Mr. Brand, of 
the Eoyal Institution, enraged him by sending so 
strong a current of electricity through a machine he 
had made to prove electro-magnetic rotation, as to 
destroy it. His characteristic was extreme accuracy, 
which particularly fitted him for giving that pre- 
cision to the science of crystallography which it had 

Z?r. Wollaston. 


not liitlicrto attained. By the invention of the 
o-oniometer which bears his name, he was enabled to 
measure the angle formed by the faces of a crystal 
by means of the reflected images of bright objects 
seen in them. We bought a goniometer, and Dr. 
Wollaston, who often dined with us, taught Somer- 
ville and me how to use it, by measuring the angles 
of many of our crystals during the evening. I 
learnt a great deal on a variet}^ of subjects besides 
crystallography from Dr. Wollaston, who, at his 
death, left me a collection of models of the forms of 
all the natural crystals then known. 

Though still occasionally occupied with the 
mineral productions of the earth, I became far 
more interested in the formation of the earth itself. 
Geologists had excited public attention, and had 
shocked the clergy and the more scrupulous of the 
laity by proving beyond a doubt that the forma- 
tion of the globe extended through enormous 
periods of time. The contest was even more keen 
then than it is at the present time about the various 
races of pre-historic men. It lasted very long, too ; 
for after I had published my work on Physical 
Geography, I was preached against by name in York 
Cathedral. Our friend, Dr. Buckland, committed 
himself by taking the clerical view m his " Bridge- 
water Treatise but facts are such stubborn things , 



Mary Somerville. 

that lie was obliged to join tlie geologists at last 
He and Mrs. Biickland invited Somerville and me 
to spend a week with them in Christchm-ch College, 
Oxford. Mr. and Mrs. Murchison were their guests 
at the same time. Mr. Murchison (now Sir Roderick) 
was then rising rapidly to the pre-eminence he now 
holds as a geologist. We spent every day in seeing 
some of the numerous objects of interest in that 
celebrated university, venerable for its antiquity, 
historical records, and noble architecture. 

Somerville and I used frequently to s^aend the 
evening with Captain and Mrs. Kater. Dr. Wol- 
laston, Dr. Young, and others were generally of the 
party ; sometimes we had music, for Ca^Dtain and 
Mrs. Kater sang very prettily. All kinds of scientific 
subjects were discussed, experiments tried and astro- 
nomical observations made in a little garden in front 
of the house. One evening we had been trying the 
power of a telescope in sej^aratmg double stars till 
about two in the morning ; on our way home we 
saw a light in Dr. Young's window, and when 
Somerville rang the bell, down came the doctor him- 
self in his dressing-gown, and said, " Come in ; I 
have something curious to show you." Astronomi- 
cal signs are frequently found on ancient Egyptian 
monuments, and were supposed to have been em- 
ployed by the priests to record dates. Now Dr. 

Dr. YoiLug. 


Young had received a papyrus from Egypt, sent to 
him by Mr. Salt, who had found it in a mummy- 
case ; and that very evening he had proved it to 
be a horoscope of the age of the Ptolemies, and 
had determined the date from the configuration 
of the heavens at the time of its construction. 
Dr. Young had already made himself famous by 
the interpretation of hieroglyphic characters on a 
stone which had been brouo-htto the British Museum 
from Eosetta in Egypt. On that stone there is an 
inscription in Hieroglyphics, the sacred symbolic 
language of the early Egyptians ; another in the 
Enchorial or spoken language of that most ancient 
people, and a mutilated inscription in Greek. By 
the aid of some fragments of papyri Dr. Young dis- 
covered that the Enchorial language is alphabetical, 
and that nine of its letters correspond with ours ; 
moreover, he discovered such a relation between the 
Enchorial and the hieroglyphic inscription that he 
interpreted the latter and published his discoveries in 
the years 181.5 and 1816. 

M. Champollion, who had been on the same pur- 
suit, examined the fine collection of papjri in the 
museum at Turin, and afterwards went to Egypt to 
pursue his studies on hieroglyphics, to our know- 
ledge of which he contributed greatly. It is to 
be regretted that one who had brought that branch 

K 2 


Mary Somerville. 

of science to sucli perfection should have been so 
ungenerous as to ignore the assistance he had re- 
ceived from the researches of Dr. Young. When the 
Eoyal Institution was first established, Dr. Young 
lectured on natural philosophy. He proved the un- 
dulatory theory of light by direct experiment, but as 
it depended upon the hypothesis of an ethereal 
medium, it Avas not received in England, the more 
so as it was contrary to Newton's theor}^. The 
French savans afterwards did Young ample justice. 
The existence of the ethereal medium is now all but 
proved, since part of the corona surrounding the 
moon during a total solar eclipse is polarized — a phe- 
nomenon depending on matter. Young's Lectm^es, 
which had been published, were a mine of riches to 
me. He was of a Quaker family ; but although he 
left the Society of Friends at an early age, he retained 
their formal precision of manner to the last. He 
was of a kindly disposition, and his wife and 
her sisters, with whom I was intimate, were much 
attached to him. Dr. Young was an elegant and 
critical scholar at a very early age ; he was an 
astronomer, a mathematician, and there were few 
branches of science in which he was not versed. 
When young, his Quaker habits did not prevent him 
from taking lessons in music and dancing. I have 
lieard him accompany his sister-in-law with the flute. 

The First Spectrum Analysis. 133 

while slie played the piano. When not more than 
sixteen years of age he was so remarkable for steadi- 
ness and acquirements that he was engaged more as 
a companion than tutor to young Hudson Guriiey, 
who was nearly of his own age. One spring morn- 
ing Young came to breakfast in a bright green coat, 
and said in explanation of his somewhat eccentric 
costume for one who had been a Quaker, that it was 
suitable to the season. One day, on returning from 
their ride Gurney, leaped his horse over the stable- 
yard gate. Young, trying to do the same, was thrown; 
he got up, mounted, and made a second attempt with 
no better success ; the third time he kept his seat, 
then quietly dismounting, he said, " What one man 

can do, another may." 


One bright morning Dr. Wollaston came to pay 
us a visit in Hanover Square, saying, " I have dis- 
covered seven dark lines crossing the solar spectrum, 
which I wish to show you then, closing the window- 
shutters so as to leave only a narrow line of light, 
he put a small glass prism into my hand, telling me 
how to hold it. I saw them distinctly. I was 
among the first, if not the very first, to whom he 
showed these lines, which were the origin of the most 
wonderful series of cosmical discoveries, and have 
proved that many of the substances of our globe are 


Mary Somerville,, 

also constituents of the sun, the stars, and even of 

the nebulse. Dr. Wolkston gave me the little prism, 

which is doubly valuable, being of glass manufac- 

tm-ed at Munich by Fraunhofer, whose table of dark 

lines has now become the standard of comparison in 

that marvellous science, the work of many illustrious 

men, brought to perfection by Bunsen and Kirchhoff. 

Sir William Herschel had discovered that what 
appeared to be single stars were frequently two stars 
in such close ajDproximation that it required a very 
high telescopic power to see them separately, and 
that in many of these one star was revohdng in an 
orbit round the other. Sir James South estab- 
lished an observatory at Camden Hill, near Kensing- 
ton, where he and Sir John Herschel united in 
observing the double stars and binary systems with 
the view of affording further data for improving our 
knowledge of their movements. In each two observa- 
tions are requisite, namely, the distance between the 
two stars, and the angle of position, that is, the angle 
which the meridian or a parallel to the equator 
makes with the lines joining the two stars. These 
observations were made by adjusting a micrometer 
to a very powerful telescope, and were data sujSi- 
cient for the determination of the orbit of the 
revolving star, should it be a binary system, I ha^'e 

Binary Stars. 


given an account of this in the " Connexion of the 
Physical Sciences," so I shall only mention here that 
in one or two of the binary systems the revolving- 
star has been seen to make more than one revolution, 
and that the periodical times and the elliptical ele- 
ments of a great many other orbits have been calcu- 
lated, though they are more than 200,000 times 
farther from the sun than we are. 

After Sir John Herscliel was married, we paid 
him a visit at Slough; fortunately, the sky was 
clear, and Sir John had the kindness to show me 
many nebulae and clusters of stars which I had 
never seen to such advantage as in his 20 ft. tele- 
scope. I shall never forget the glorious appearance 
of Jupiter as he entered the field of that instru- 

For years the British nation was kept in a state of 
excitement by the Arctic voyages of our undaunted 
seamen in c[uest of a north-west passage from the 
Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The idea was not 
new, for a direct way to our Eastern possessions had 
been long desired. On this occasion the impulse 
was given by "William Scoresby, captain of a whaler, 
w^ho had sailed on the east coast of Greenland as 
high as the 80th parallel of latitude, and for two suc- 
cessive seasons had found that the sea between 
Greenland and Spitzbergen was free of ice for 18,000 


Mary Soinerville. 

square miles — a circumstance which had not oc- 
curred before in the memory of man. Scoresby was 
of rare genius, well versed in science, and of 
strict probity. When he published this discovery, 
the Admiralty, in the year 1818, sent off two expedi- 
tions, one under the command of Captains Franklin 
and Buchan to the east of Greenland, and another 
under Captains Koss and Parry to Baffin's Bay. 
Such was the beginning of a series of noble adven- 
tures, now the province of history. 

I had an early passion for everything relating to 
the sea, and when my father was at home I never 
tired asking him questions about his voyages and the 
dangers to which he had been exposed. Now, when 
I knew something of nautical science, I entered with 
enthusiasm into the spirit of these Arctic voyages ; 
nor was my husband less interested. We read 
Scoresby's whaling voyages with great delight, and 
we made the acquaintance of all the officers who 
had been on these northern expeditions. 

Sir Edward Parry, who had brought us minerals 
and seeds of plants from Melville Island, invited us 
to see the ships prepared for his third voyage, and 
three years' residence in the Arctic seas. It is im- 
possible to describe how perfectly everything was 
arranged : experience had taught them what was 
necessaiy for such an expedition. On this occasion 

Somerville Island. 


I put in practice my lessons in cookery by making a 
large quantity of orange marmalade for the voyage. 
AVhen, after three years, the ships returned, we 
were informed that the name of Somerville had been 
given to an island so far to the north that it was 
all but perpetually covered with ice and snow. Not- 
withstanding the sameness which naturally prevails 
in the narratives of these voyages, they are invested 
mth a romantic interest by the daring bravery dis- 
played, and by the appalling difficulties overcome. 
The noble endeavour of Lady Franklin to save her 
gallant husband, and the solitary voyage of Sir 
Leopold McCHntock in a small yacht in search of 
his lost friend, form the touching and sad termina- 
tion to a very glorious period of maritime adventure. 
More than fifty years after these events I renewed my 
acquaintance with Lady Franklin. She and her niece 
came to see me at Spezia on their way to Dalmatia. 
She had circumnavigated the globe with her husband 
when he was governor in Australia. After his loss 
she and her niece had gone round the world a second 
time, and she assm'ed me that although they went to 
Japan and China (less known at that time than they 
are now), they never experienced any difficulty. 
Seeing ladies travelling alone, people were always 
willing to help them. The French sent a Polar expe- 
dition under Captain Gaimard in the years 1838 and 


Mary Somerville. 

1839 ; and the United States of North America took 
an active part in Arctic exploration. Whether Dr. 
Kane's discovery of an open polar ocean will ever Idc 
verified is problematical ; at all events, the deplorable 
fate of Sir John Franklin has put a stop to the 
chance of it for the present ; yet it is a great geogra- 
phical question which we should all like to see 

Captain Sabine, of the Artillery (now General Sir 
Edward Sabine, President of the Eoyal Society), 
was appointed to accompany the first expedition 
under Caj)tains Ross and Parry on account of his 
high scientific acquirements. The observations made 
dm'ing the series of Arctic voyages on the magnetism 
of the earth, combined with an enormous mass of 
observations made by numerous observers in all 
parts of the globe by sea and by land, have enabled 
Sir Edward Sabine, after a labour of nearly fifty 
years, to complete his marvellous system of terrestrial 
magnetism in both hemispheres. During that long- 
period a friendship has lasted between Sir Edward 
and me. He has uniformly sent me copies of all 
his w^orks ; to them I chiefly owe what I know on 
the subject, and quite recently I have received his 
latest and most important publication. Sir Edward 
married a lady of talent and scientific acquirements. 
She translated " Cosmos" from the German, and 



assisted and calculated for her husband in his labo- 
rious work. 

I do not remember the exact period, but I think 
it was subsequent to the Arctic voyages, that the 
theory was discovered of those tropical hurricanes 
which cause such devastation by sea and land. 
Observations are now made on barometric pres- 
sure, and warnings are sent to our principal sea- 
ports by telegraph, as well as along both sides 
of the Channel ; but notwithstanding numerous 
disastrous shipwrecks occur every winter on our 
dangerous coasts. They were far more numerous 
in my younger days. Life-boats were not then 
invented ; now they are stationed on almost 
every coast of Great Britain, and on many conti- 
nental shores. The readiness with which they are 
manned, and the formidable dangers encountered to 
save life, show the gallant, noble character of the 



We went frequently to see Mr. Babbage while he 
was making liis Calculating-macliines. He bad a 
transcendanc intellect, unconquerable perseverance, 
and extensive knowledge on many subjects, besides 
being a fixst-rate mathematician. I always found 
him most amiable and patient in explaining the 
structure and use of the engines. The first he made 
could only perform arithmetical operations. Not 
satisfied with that, Mr. Babbage constructed an 
analytical engine, which could be so arranged as to 
perform all kinds of mathematical calculations, and 
print each result. 

Nothing has afibrded me so convincing a proof of 
the unity of the Deity as these purely mental con- 
ceptions of numerical and mathematical science 
which have been by slow degrees vouchsafed to 
man, and are still granted m these latter times by 
the Differential Calculus, now superseded by the 

Religions Opinio7is. 


Hio'her Algebra, all of wliicb. must liave existed in 
that sublimely omniscient Mind from eternity. 

Many of our friends had very decided and various 
religious opinions, but my husband and I never 
entered into controversy ; we had too high a regard 
for liberty of conscience to interfere with any one's 
opinions, so we have lived on terms of sincere 
friendship and love with people who differed essen- 
tially from us in religious views, and in all the books 
which I have written I have confined myself strictly 
and entirely to scientific subjects, although my 
religious opinions are very decided. 

Timidity of character, probably owing to early 
education, had a great influence on my daily life ; 
for I did not assume my place in society in my 
younger days ; and in argument I was in- 
stantly silenced, although I often knew, and could 
have proved, that I was in the right. The only 
thing in which I was determined and inflexible 
was in the prosecution of my studies. They were 
perpetually interrupted, but always resumed at the 
first opportunity. No analysis is so difficult as that 
of one's own mind, but I do not think I err much in 

saying that perseverance is a characteristic of mine. 
* * * *- * 

Somerville and I were ver}^ ti^PPy when we 
lived in Hanover Square. We were always en- 

Mary Somerville, 

gaged in some pursuit, and had good society. 
General society was at that time brilliant for 
wit and talent. The Eev. Sidney Smith, Eogers, 
Thomas Moore, Campbell, the Hon. William Spencer, 
Macaulay, Sir James Mackintosh, Lord Melbourne, 
&c., &c., all made the dinner-parties very agreeable. 
The men sat longer at table than they do now, and, 
except in the families where I was intimate, the con- 
versation of the ladies in the drawing-room, when we 
came up from dinner, often bored me. I dishked routs 
exceedingly, and should often have sent an excuse if 
I had known what to say. After my marriage I did 
not dance, for in Scotland it was thought highly in- 
decorous for a married woman to dance. Waltzing, 
when first introduced, was looked upon with horror, 
and even in England it was then thought very im- 

One season I subscribed to the Concerts of Ancient 
Music, established by George the Third. They 
seemed to be the resort of the aged ; a young face 
was scarcely to be seen. The music was perfect 
of its kind, but the whole affair was very dull. 
The Philharmonic Concerts were excellent for scien- 
tific musicians, and I sometimes went to them ; 
but for my part I infinitely preferred hearing 
Pasta, Malibran, and Grisi, who have left the 
most vivid impression on my mind, although sp 



different from each otlier. Somerville enjoyed a 
comic opera exceedingly, and so did I ; and at that 
time Lablache was in the height of his fame. 
When Somerville and I made the tour in Italy al- 
ready mentioned, we visited Catalani (then Madame 
Valabreque) in a vUla near Florence, to which she 
retii-ed in her old age. She, however, died in Paris, 
of cholera, some years later. 

Somerville liked the theatre as much as I did ; so 
we saw all the greatest actors of the day, both in 
tragedy and comedy, and the English theatre was 
then excellent. Young, who was scarcely inferior 
to John Kemble, Macready, Kean, Liston, &c., and 
Miss O'Neill, who after a short brilliant career 
entered into domestic life on her marriage with Sir 
AViUiam Beecher, were all at the height of their 
fame. It was then I became acquainted with Lady 
Beecher, who was so simple and natural that no one 
could have discovered she had ever been on the 
stage. A very clever company of French comedians 
acted in a temporary theatre in Tottenham Court 
Koad, where we frequently went with a party of 
friends, and enjoyed very pleasant evenings. I 
think my fondness for the theatre depended to a 
certain degree on my silent disposition ; for unless 
among intimate friends, or when much excited, I 
was startled at the sound of my own voice in 


Mary Somerville. 

general conversation, from tlie shyness wliieli lias 
haunted me through life, and starts up occasionally 
like a ghost in my old age. At a play I was not 
called upon to make any exert jon, but could enjoy 
at my ease an intellectual pleasure for the most part 
far superior to the general run of conversation. 

Among many others, we were intimate mth 
Dr. and Mrs. Baillie and his sisters. Joanna was 
my dear and valued friend to the end of her life. 
When her tragedy of "Montfort" was to be brought 
on the stage, Somerville and I, with a large party of 
her relations and friends, went with her to the theatre. 
The play was admirably acted, for Mrs. Siddons and 
her brother John Kemble performed the principal 
parts. It was warmly applauded by a full house, 
but it was never acted ao-ain. Some time afterwards 
"The Family Legend," founded on a Highland 
story, had better success in Edinburgh ; but ]\Iiss 
Baillie's ]plays, though highly poetical, are not suited 
to the stage. Miss Mitforcl Avas more successful, 
for some of her plays were repeatedly acted. She 
excelled also as a writer. " Our Village " is perfect of 
its kind ; nothing can be more animated than her 
description of a game of cricket. I met 'svith Miss 
Austin's novels at this time, and thought them ex- 
cellent, especially " Pride and Prejudice." It cer- 

Mrs. Opie and Mrs. Fry. 


tainly formed a curious contrast to my old favourites, 
the EadcMe novels and the ghost stories ; but I 
had now come to years of discretion. 

Among my Quaker, friends I met with that amiable 
but eccentric person Mrs. Opie. Though a "wet" 
Quakeress, she continued to wear the peculiar dress. 
1 was told that she was presented in it at the Tuileries, 
and astonished the French ladies. "We were also ac- 
quainted with Mrs. Fry, a very different person, and 
heard her preach. Her voice was fine, her delivery 
admirable, and her prayer sublime. We were inti- 
mate with Mr. (now Sir Charles) Lyell, who, if I mis- 
take not, first met with his wife at our house, where 
she was extremely admired as the beautiful Miss 
Horner. Until we lost all our fortune, and went 
to live at Chelsea, I used to have little evening 
parties in Hanover Square. 

1 was not present at the coronation of George the 
Fourth ; but I had a ticket for the gallery in West- 
minster Hall, to see the banquet. Though I went 
very early in the morning, I found a wonderful 
confusion. I showed my ticket of admission to one 
official person after another ; the answer always was 
" I know nothing about it." At last I got a good 
place near some ladies I knew ; even at that earlv 
hour the gallery was full. Some time after the 

146 Mary SomerviLle. 

ceremony in the Abbey Wcas over, the door of the 
magnificent hall was thrown open, and the king 
entered in the flowing curls and costume of Henry 
the Eighth, and, imitating the jaunty manner of that 
monarch, walked up the hall and sat down on the 
throne at its extremity. The peeresses had already 
taken their seats under the gallery, and the king 
was followed by the peers, and the knights of the 
Garter, Bath, Thistle, and St. Patrick, all in their 
robes. After every one had taken his seat, the 
Champion, on his horse, both in full armour, rode 
u^) the hall, and threw down a gauntlet before the 
king, while the heralds proclaimed that he was 
ready to do battle with any one who denied that 
George the Fourth was the liege lord of these 
realms. Then various persons presented offerings to 
the king in right of which they held their estates. 
One gentleman presented a beautiful pair of falcons 
in their hoods. While this pageantry and noise was 
at its height. Queen Caroline demanded to be ad- 
mitted. There was a sudden silence and consterna- 
tion, — it was like the "handwriting on the wall!" 
The sensation was intense. At last the order was given 
to refuse her admittance ; the pageantry was re- 
newed, and the banquet followed. The noise, 
boat, and vivid lidit of the illumination of the hall 
gave me a racking headache ; at last I went out of 

Tivo Coronations. 147 

the gallery and sat on a stair, wliere there was a 
little fresh air, and was very glad when all was over. 
Years afterwards I was present in Westminster 
Abbey at the coronation of our Queen, then a pretty 
young girl of eighteen. Placed in the most trjdng 
position at that early age, by her virtues, both 
public and private, she has. endeared herself to the 
nation beyond what any sovereign ever did before. 

Hfs ^ ^ ^ ^ 

I, who had so many occupations and duties at 
home, soon tired of the idleness and formality of 
visiting in the country. I made an exception, how- 
ever, in favour of an occasional visit to Mr. Sotheby, 
the poet, and his family in Epping Forest, of which, 
if I mistake not, he was deputy-ranger ; at all 
events, he had a pretty cottage there where he 
and his family received their friends with kind 
hospitality. He spent part of the day in his study, 
and afterwards I have seen him playing cricket 
with his son and grandson, with as much vivacity 
as any of them. The freshness of the air was quite 
reviving to Somerville and me ; and om- two little 
girls played in the forest all the day. 

We also gladly went for several successive years 
to visit Sir John Saunders Sebright at Beech- 
wood Park, Hertfordshire. Dr. Wollaston gene- 
rally travelled with us on these occasions, when 

L 2 

Mary Somei'ville. 

we had mucli conversation on a variety of snb- 
jects, scientific or general. He was remarkably 
acute in his obser^^ations on objects as we passed 
them. " Look at that ash tree ; did you ever 
notice that the branches of the ash tree are 
curves of double curvature ?" There was a comet 
visible at the time of one of these little journeys. 
Dr. Wollaston had made a drawing of the orbit and 
its elements ; but, having left it in town, he de- 
scribed the lines so accurately without naming 
them, that I remarked at once, "That is the curtate 
or perihelion distance," which pleased him greatly, 
as it showed how accurate his description was. He 
was a chess-player, and, when travelling alone, he 
used to carry a book with diagrams of partiaUy- 
played games, in Avhich it is required to give check- 
mate in a fixed number of moves. He would 
study one of them, and then, shutting the book, 
play out the game mentally. 

Although Sir John was a keen sportsman and 
fox-hunter in his youth, he was remarkable for his 
kindness to animals and for the facility Avhich 
he tamed them. He kept terriers, and his pointers 
were first rate, yet he never allowed his keepers to 
beat a dog, nor did he ever do it himself; he said a 
dog once cowed was good for nothing ever after. 
He trained them l)y tying a string to the collar and 

Training Dogs. 


giving it a sharp pull when the dog did wrong, 
and patting him kindly when he did right. In this 
manner he taught some of his non-sporting dogs 
to play all sorts of trieks, such as picking out the 
card chosen by any spectator from a number placed 
in a cii-ele on the floor, the signal being one 
momentary glance at the card, &e. &c. Sir John 
published a pamphlet on the subject, and sent 
copies of it to the sporting gentlemen and keepers 
in the county, I fear with little effect ; men are 
so apt to vent their own bad temper on their dogs 
and horses. 

At one of the battues at Beech wood, Chantrey killed 
two woodcocks at one shot. Mr. Hudson Gurn^y 
some time after saw a brace of woodcocks carved in 
marble in Chan trey's studio ; Chantrey told him of 
his shot and the difficulty of finding a suitable 
inscription, and that it had been tried in Latin 
and even Greek without success. Mr. Gurney said it 
should be very simple, such as : — 

Driven from the north, where winter starved them, 
Chan trey first shot, and then he carved them. 

Beechwood was one of the few places in Great 
Britain in which hawking was kept up. The falcons 
were brought from Flanders, for, except in the Isle 
of Skye, they have been extirpated in Great Britain 
like many other of our fine indigenous birds. Sir 


Mary Somej^ville. 

Jolm kept fancy pigeons of all breeds. He told 
me he could alter the colour of their plumage in 
three years by cross-breeding, but that it required 
fully six to alter the shape of the bird. 


At some house where we were dining in London, 
I forget with whom, Ugo Foscolo, the poet, was 
one of the party. He was extremely excitable and 
irritable, and when some one spoke of a translation 
of Dante as being perfect, " Impossible," shouted 
Foscolo, starting up in great excitement, at the 
same time tossing his cup full of coffee into the 
air, cup and all, regardless of the china and the 
ladies' dresses. He died in England, I fear in great 
poverty. He was a most distinguished classical 
scholar as well as poet. His remains have been 
brought to Italy within these few years, and in- 
terred in Sante Croce, in Florence. 


I had a severe attack of what appeared to be 
cholera, and during my recovery Mrs. Hankey very 
kindly lent us her villa at Hampstead for a few 
weeks. There I went with my children, Somerville 
with some friends always coming to dinner on the 
Sundays. On one of these occasions there was a 
violent thunderstorm, and a large tree was struck 
not far from the house. "We all went to look at the 

Practical Astronomy. 


tree as soon as the storm ceased, and found that a 
large mass of wood was scooped out of the trunk 
from top to bottom. I had occasion in two other 
instances to notice the same effect. Dr. Wollaston 
lent me a sextant and artificial horizon ; so I amused 
myself taking the altitude of the sun, the conse- 
quence of which was that I became as brown as a 
mulatto, but I was too anxious to learn something of 
practical astronomy to care about the matter. 



Our liappy and cheerful life in Hanover Square 
came to a sad end. The illness and death of our 
eldest girl threw Somerville and me into the deepest 
affliction. She was a child of intelligence and 
acquirements far beyond her tender age. 

[The long illness and death of this young giii fell very 
heavily on my mother, who by this time had lost several 
children. The following letter was written by her to 
ni}'^ grandfather on this occasion. It shows her steadfast 
faith in the mercy and goodness of God, even when 
crushed by almost the severest affliction which can wring 
a mother's heart : — 


London, October, 1823. 

My dear Father, 

I never was so long of writmg to you, but when 
the heart is breaking it is impossible to find words ade- 
quate to its relief. We are in deep affliction, for though 
the first violence of grief has subsided, there has sue- 

Appointment to Chelsea. 


ceedecl a calm sorrow not less painful, a feeling of hope- 
lessness in this world which only finds comfort in the 
prospect of another, wliich longs for the consummation 
of all things that we may join those who have gone 
before. To retui-n to the duties of Hfe is irksome, even 
to those duties which were a delight when the candle of 
the Lord shone upon us. I do not arraign the decrees 
of Providence, but even in the bitterness of my soul I 
acknowledge the wisdom and goodness of God, and 
endeavom- to be. resigned to His will. It is ungTateful 
not to remember the many happy years we have enjoyed, 
but that very remembrance renders our present state 
more desolate and dreary — presenting a sad contrast. 
The gi-eat source of consolation is in the mercy of God 
and the virtues of those we lament ; the full assurance 
that no good disposition can be lost but must be brought 
to perfection ui a better world. Our business is to 
render ourselves fit for that blessed inheritance that we 
may again be united to those we mourn. 

Yom' affectionate daughter, 

Mary Somerville. 

Somerville still held his place at the army medical 
Ijoard, and was now appointed physician to Chelsea 
Hospital ; so we left our cheerful, comfortable house 
tmd went to reside in a government house in a very 
dreary and unhealthy situation, far from aU our 
friends, which was a serious loss to me, as I was not 
a good walker, and during the *»whole time I lived 
at Chelsea I suffered from sick headaches. Still we 


Mary Somerville. 

were very glad of the appointment, for at this time 
we lost almost the whole of our fortune, through the 
dishonesty of a person in whom we had the greatest 

All the time we lived at Chelsea we had constant 
intercourse with Lady Noel Byron and Ada, who 
lived at Esher, and when I came abroad I kept up a 
correspondence with both as long as they lived. Ada 
was much attached to me, and often came to stay 
with me. It was by my advice that she studied 
mathematics. She always wrote to me for an ex- 
planation when she met with any difficulty. Among 
my papers I lately found many of her notes, asking 
mathematical questions. Ada Byron married Lord 
King, afterwards created Earl of Lovelace, a college 
companion and friend of my son. 

Somerville had formed a friendship with Sir 
Henry Bunbury when he had a command in Sicily, 
and we went occasionally to visit him at Barton in 
Suffolk. I liked Lady Bunbury very much; she 
was a niece of the celebrated Charles Fox, and had 
a turn for natural history. I had made a collec- 
tion of native shells at Bm^ntisland, but I only 
knew their vulgar names ; now I learnt their scien- 
tific arrangement from Lady Bunbury. Her son, 
Sir Charles Bunbury, is an authority for fossil 
botany. The first Pinetum I ever saw was at Barton, 

The Napie7's. 


and in 1837 I planted a cedar in remembrance of 
one of our visits. 

Through Lady Bunbury we became intimate with 
all the members of the illustrious family of the 
Napiers, as she was sister of Colonel, afterwards 
General Sir William Napier, author of the "His- 
tory of the Peninsular War." One day Colonel 
Napier, who was then Hving in Sloane Street, intro- 
duced Somerville and me to his mother, Lady Sarah 
Napier. Her manners were distinguished, and 
though totally blind, she still had the remains of 
gTeat beauty ; her hand and arm, which were ex- 
posed by the ancient costume she wore, were most 
beautiful still. The most sincere friendship existed 
between Eichard Napier and his wife and me through 
life ; I shall never forget their kindness to me at a 
time when I was in great sorrow. All the brothers 
are now gone. Eichard and his wife were long in 
bad health, and he was nearly blind ; but his wife 
never knew it, through the devoted attachment of 
Emily Shirrilf, daughter of Admiral ShirrifF, who 
was the comfort and consolation of both to their 
dying day. 

Maria Edgeworth came frequently to see us when 
she was in England. She was one of my most 
intimate friends, warm-hearted and kind, a charming 
companion, with all the liveliness and originality of 

Mary Somerville. 

an Irisliwoman. For seventeen years I was in con- 
stant correspondence with lier. The cleverness and 
animation as well as affection of her letters I cannot 
express ; certainly women are superior to men in 

[The following is an extract from a letter from Maria 
Edge worth to a friend concerning my mother : — 


Beechwood Park, Jamianj nth, 1822. 

We have spent two daj^s pleasantly here with Dr. 
Wollaston, our own dear friend Mrs. Marcet, and the 
Somer\dlles. Mrs. Somerville is the lady who, Laplace 
sa_ys, is the only woman who understands his works. 
She draws beautifully, and while her head is among the 
stars her feet are firm upon the earth. 

Mrs. Somerville is httle, shghtly made, fahish hah, 
pink colour, small, grej^, round, intelhgent, smilmg eye's,, 
very pleasing countenance, remarkabl}^ soft voice, strong, 
but well-bred Scotch accent ; timid, not disqualifying 
timid, but naturally modest, jei with a degree of self- 
possession through it which prevents her being in the 
least awkward, and gives her all the advantage of her 
understandiDg, at the same time that it adds a pre- 
jjossessing charm to her manner and takes off all dread 
of her superior scientific learning. 

While in London I had a French maid for my 
daughters, and on coming to Chelsea I taught them 

EdiLcation of D might ers. 157 

a little geometry and algebra, as well as Latin and 
Greek, and, later, got a master for them, that they 
might have a more perfect knowledge of these lan- 
guages than I possessed. Keenly alive to my own 
defects, I was anxious that my children should never 
undergo the embarrassment and mortification I had 
sulFered from ignorance of the common European 
languages. I engaged a young German lady, 
daughter of Professor Becker, of Offenbach, near 
Frankfort, as governess, and was most happy in my 
choice ; but after being with us for a couple of 
years, she had a very bad attack of fever, and was 
obliged to return home. She was replaced by a 
younger sister, who afterwards married Professor 
Trendelenburg, Professor of Philosophy at the Uni- 
versity of Berlin. Though both these sisters were 
quite young, I had the most perfect confidence 
in them, from their strict conscientiousness and 
morality. They were well educated, ladylike, and 
so amiable, that they gained the friendship of my 
children and the affection of us all. 

As we could with perfect confidence leave the 
children to Miss Becker's care, Sir James Mackintosh, 
Somerville and I made an excursion to the Continent. 
We went to Brussels, and what lady can go there 
without seeing the lace manufactory? I saw, 
admired, — and bought none ! We were kindly re- 


Mary So7nerville. 

ceived by Professor Quetelet, wliom we liad pre- 
viously known, and who never failed to send me a 
copy of liis valuable memoirs as soon as they were 
published. I have uniformly met with the greatest 
kindness from scientific men at home and abroad. If 
any of tliem are alive when this record is published, 
I beg they will accept of my gratitude. Of those 
that are no more I bear a grateful remembrance. 

The weather was beautiful when we were at 
Brussels, and in the evening we went to the pubhc 
garden. It was crowded with people, and very gay. 
We sat down, and amused ourselves by looking at 
them as they passed. Sir James was a most agree- 
able companion, intimate with all the political 
characters of the day, full of anecdote and historical 
knowledge. That evening his conversation was so 
iDrilliant that we forgot the time, and looking 
around found that everybody had left the garden, 
so we thought we might as well return to the hotel ; 
but on coming to the iron-barred gate we found it 
locked. Sir James and Somerville begged some of 
those that were passing to caU the keeper of the 
park to let us out ; but they said it was impossible, 
that we must wait till morning. A crowd as- 
sembled laughing and mocking, tiU at last we got 
out through the house of one of the keepers of the 

Tour in Holland. 


At Bonn we met with Baron Humboldt, and M. 
Sclilegel, celebrated for his translation of Shake- 
speare. On going up the Rhine, Sir James knew the 
history of every place and of every battle that had 
been fought. A professor of his acquaintance in one 
of the towns invited us to dinner, and I was as- 
tonished to see the lady of the house going about 
with a great bunch of keys dangling at her side, 
assisting in serving up the dinner, and doing all the 
duty of carving, her husband taking no part what- 
ever in it. I was annoyed that we had given so 
much trouble by accepting the invitation. In my 
younger days in Scotland, a lady might make the 
pastry and jelly, or direct in the kitchen ; but she 
took no part in cooking or serving up the dinner, 
and never rose from the table tiU the ladies went to 
the drawing-room. However, as we could not afford 
to keep a regular cook, an ill-dressed dish would 
occasionally appear, and then my father would say, 
" God sends food, but the devil sends cooks." 

In our tour through Holland, Somerville was 
quite at home, and amused himself talking to the 
people, for he had learnt the Dutch language at the 
Cape of Good Hope. We admired the pretty quaint 
costumes of the women ; but I was the only one who 
took interest in the galleries. Many of the pictures 
01 the Dutch school are very fine; but I never 

160 Mary Somei'ville. 

should have made a collection exclusively of them as 
was often done at one time in England. Lord Gran- 
ville was British Minister at the Hao^ue, and dinina 

at the Embassy one day we met with a Mrs. , 

who, on hearing one of the attaches addressed as Mr. 
Abercromby,* said, " Pray, Lord Granville, is that a 
son of the great captain whom the Lord slew in the 
land of Egypt ? " 

I never met with Madame de Stael, but heard a 
great deal about her during this jom^ney from Sir 
James Mackintosh, who was very intimate with her. 
At that time the men sat longer at table after 
dinner than they do now ; and on one occasion, 
at a dinner party at Sir James's house, when Lady 
Mackintosh and the ladies returned to the drawing- 
room, Madame de Stael, who was exceedingly im- 
patient of women's society, would not deign to 
enter into conversation with any of the ladies, but 
walked about the room ; then suddenly ringing 
the bell, she said, " Ceci est insupportable ! " and 
when the servant appeared, she said : " Tell your 
master to come upstairs directly; they have sat 
Ions enough at their wine." 

* Afterwards Sir Ralph Abercromby, later Lord Dunf ennline, minister 
first at Florence, then at Turin, 



[After my motlier's retui'ii home my father received 
the following letter from Lord Brougham, which very 
importantly influenced the fui'ther course of my mother's 
Hfe. It is dated March 27th, 1827 >— 


My dear Sm, 

I fear you mil thinlc me very daring for the 
design I have foi-med against Mrs. Somerville, and still 
more for makmg you my advocate with her; through 
whom I have eveiy hope of prevailing. There will be 
sent to you a prospectus, rules, and a prehminary treatise 
of our Society for Diffusing Useful ICnowledge, and I 
assure you I speak without any flattery when I say that 
of the two subjects which I find it most diflficult to see 

102 Mary Somerville. 

the chance of executing, there is one, which — unless ]\Ii-s, 
Somerville will undertake — none else can, and it must be 
left undone, though ahout the most interesting of the 
whole, I mean an account of the Mecanique Celeste ; the 
other is an account of the Principia, which I have some 
hopes of at Cambridge. The kind of thing wanted is 
such a description of that divine work as will both explain 
to the unlearned the sort of thing it is — the plan, the 
vast 'merit, the wonderful truths unfolded or methodized 
— and the calculus by which all this is accompHshed, and 
will also give a somewhat deeper' insight to the im- 
initiated. Two treatises would do this. No one without 
trying it can conceive how far we may carry ignorant 
readers into an understanding of the depths of science, 
and our treatises have about 100 to 800 pages of sjiace 
each, so that one might give the more popular view, and 
another the analytical abstracts and illustrations. In 
England there are now not twenty people who know this 
great work, except by name ; and not a hundred who 
know it even by name. My firm belief is that Mrs. 
Somerville could add two cyphers to each of those 
figures. AViU you be my counsel in this suit ? Of 
course our names are concealed, and no one of our 
council but mj^self needs to know it. 

Yours ever most truly, 

H. Brougha.m. 

My mother in alluding to the above says : — 

This letter surprised me beyond expression. I 
tliouglit Lord Brousrham must have been mistaken 
with regard to my acquirements, and naturally con- 



eluded that my self-acquired knowledge was so far 
inferior to tliat of tlie men wlio had been educated 
in our universities that it would be the height of 
presumption to attempt to write on such a subject, 
or indeed on any other. A few days after this Lord 
Brouo-ham came to Chelsea himself, and Somerville 
joined with him in urging me at least to make the 
attempt. I said, "Lord Brougham, you must be 
aware that the work in question never can .be popu- 
larized, since the student must at least know some- 
thing of the differential and integral calculi, and as 
a preliminary step I should have to prove various 
problems in physical mechanics and astronomy. 
Besides, La Place never gives diagrams or figures, 
because they are not necessary to persons versed in 
the calculus, but they Avould be indispensable in a 
work such as you wish me to write. I am afraid I 
am incapable of such a task : but as you both wish 
it so much, I shall do my very best upon condition of 
secrecy, and that if I fail the manuscrijDt shall be 
put into the fire." Thus suddenly and unexpectedly 
the whole character and course of my future life was 

I rose early and made such arrangements with re- 
gard to my children and family affairs that I had time 
to write afterwards ; not, however, without many in- 
terruptions. A man can always command his time 

JI 2 


Mary SomervilU. 

under the plea of business, a woman is not allowed 
any such, excuse. At Chelsea I was always supposed 
to be at home, and as my friends and ac(]^uaintances 
came so far out of their way on purpose to see me, 
it would have been unkmd and imgenerous not to 
receive them. Nevertheless, I was sometimes an- 
noyed when in the midst of a difficult problem some 
one would enter and say, " I have come to spend a 
few hours with you." However, I learnt by habit 
to leave a subject and resume it again at once, like 
putting a mark into a book I might be reading ; this 
was the more necessary as there was no fire-place 
in my little room, and I had to write in the 
drawing-room in winter. Frequently I hid my 
papers as soon as the bell announced a visitor, lest 
anyone should discover my secret. 

[Mj'' mother had a singular power of abstraction. When 
occupied with some difficult problem, or even a train 
of thought which deeply interested her, she lost all con- 
sciousness of what went on around her, and became so 
entirely absorbed that ^rq amount of talking, or even 
practisuag scales and solfeggi, went on without in the 
least distiu'bing her. Sometimes a song or a strain of 
melody would recall her to a sense of the present, for 
she was passionately fond of music. A cmious mstance 
of this pecuUarity of hers occuiTed at Eome, Avhen a 
large party ,were assembled to listen to a celebrated 
improvisatrice. My mother was placed in the front row. 

The Improvisatricc. 


close to the poetess, who, for several stanzas, adhered 
strictly to the subject which had been given to her, ^Vliat 
it was I do not recollect, except that it had no connec- 
tion with what followed. AU at once, as if by a sudden 
inspiration, the lady turned her eyes full upon my mother, 
and with true Itahan vehemence and ui the full musical 
accents of Eome, poured forth stanza after stanza of the 
most eloquent panegyric upon her talents and virtues, 
extolling them and her to the sides. Throughout the 
whole of this scene, which lasted a considerable time, 
my mother remained calm and unmoved, never changing 
countenance, which sm'prised not only the persons 
present but om'selves, as we well Imew how much she 
disliked any displa}-^ or being brought forward in public. 
The truth was, that after listening for a while to the 
improvising, a thought struck her connected with some 
subject she was engaged in writing upon at the time and 
so entirely absorbed her that she heard not a word of all 
that had been declaimed in her praise, and was not a 
little sur^msed and confused when she was complimented 
on it. I call this, advisedly, a power of hers, for although 
it occasionally led her into strange positions, such as the 
one above mentioned, it rendered her entirely indepen- 
dent of outward circumstances, nor did she require to 
isolate herself from the family circle in order to pm-sue 
her studies. I have ah-eady mentioned that when we 
were very yomig she taught us herself for a few hom's 
daily ; when our lessons were over we always remained 
in the room with her, learning grammar, arithmetic, or 
some such plague of childhood. Any one who has 
plunged into the mazes of the higher branches of 
mathematics or other abstruse science, would probably 
' feel no slight degree of irritation on being inter- 


Mary Somerville. 

rupted at a critical moment when tlie solution was 
almost within his grasp, by some childish question 
about tense or gender, or how much seven times 
seven made. My mother w^as never impatient, but 
explained our little difficulties quickly and Idndly, 
and returned calmly to her own profound thoughts. 
Yet on occasion she could show both irritation and 
impatience — when we were stupid or inattentive, neither 
of which she could stand. With her clear mind she 
darted at the solution, sometimes forgetting that we had 
to toil after her laboriously step by step. I well remem- 
ber her slender white hand pointing unpatientty to the 
book or slate — " Don't you see it ? there is no difficidty 
in it, it is quite clear." Tilings were so clear to her ! I 
must here add some other recollections \)j mj"- mother of 
this very interesting portion of her life. 

I was a considerable time employed in writing this 
book, but I by no means gave up society, which 
would neither have suited Somerville nor me. AVc 
dined out, went to evening parties, and occasionally 
to the theatre. As soon as my work was finished I 
sent the manuscript to Lord Brougham, requesting 
that it might be thoroughly examined, criticised and 
destroyed according to promise if a failure. I was 
very nervous while it Avas under examination, and 
was equally surprised and gratified that Sir John 
Herschel, our greatest astronomer, and perfectly 
versed in the calculus, shoukl have found so few ^ 

HerschcFs Approval. 


errors. The letter he ^vrote on this occasion made 
me so happy and proud that I have preserved it. 


Dear Mrs. Somerville, 

I liave read your manuscript with the greatest 
pleasiu'e, and will not hesitate to add, (because I am sure 
you will beUeve it sincere,) with the highest admiration. 
Go on tlius, and you will leave a memorial of no common 
kind to posterity; and, what 3'ou will value far more 
than fome, j'ou will have accomplished a most useful 
work. What a pity that La Place has not lived to see 
this illustration of liis great work ! You will onl}', I fear, 
give too strong a stimulus to the study of abstract science 
by this performance. 

I have marked as somewhat obsciu'e a part of the 

illustration of the principle of vh'tual velocities 

Will you look at this point again ? I have made a 
trifling remark in page 6, but it is a mere matter of 
metaphysical nicety, and perhaps hardly worth pencilling 
your beautiful manuscript for. 

Ever yours most trul}^, 


[In pubhshing the following letter, I do not consider 
that I am infringmg on the rule I have followed in obedi- 
ence to my mother's wishes, that is, to abstain from 
givmg publicity to all letters which are of a private and 
confidential character. This one entu'ely concerns her 
scientific v/ritings, and is interesting as showmg the con- 
fidence which existed between Sir John Herschel and 


Mary Somervillc. 

herself. This great philosopher was mj^ mother's truest 
and best friend, one whose opinion she valued above all 
others, whose genius and consummate talents she ad- 
mired, and whose beautiful character she loved with an 
intensity which is better shown by some extracts from 
her letters to be given presently than by anything I can 
saj'. This deep regard on her part he retm'ned with the 
most cliivah-ous respect and admiration. In an}- doubt 
or difficulty it was his advice she sought, his criticism 
she submitted to ; both were always frankly given with- 
out the slightest fear of giving offence, for Sir John 
Herschel Avell knew the sj)irit with which any remarks of 
his would be received. 


Slough, Feb. 23rd, 1830. 

My dear Mrs. Somerville, 

As you contemplate separate 

publication, and as the attention of many will be turned 
to a work from your pen who will just possess quantum 
enough of mathematical Icnowledge to be able to read the 
first chapter without being able to follow you into its 
appHcation, and as these, moreover, are the \evy j)eople 
who wiU thinlv themselves privileged to criticise and use 
their privilege with the least discretion, I cannot recom- 
mend too much clearness, fuhiess, and order in the 
expose of the principles. Were I you, I would devote to 
this first part at least double the space you have done. 
Your famiharity with the results and formulas has led j'ou 
into what is extremely natui'al in such a case — a somewhat 
hasty passing over what, to a beginner, would prove 

Her sellers Advice. 


insuperable difficulties ; and if I may so express it, a 
sketchiness of outline (as a painter you will iinderstand 
my meaning, and what is of more consequence, see how 
it is to be remedied). 

You have adopted, I see, the principle of virtual velocity, 
and the principle of d'Alembert, rather as separate and 
independent principles to be used as instruments of 
investigation than as convenient theories, flowing them- 
selves from the general law of force and equilibrium, 
to be first proved and then remembered as compact 
statements in a form fit for use. The demonstration of 
the principle of virtual velocities is so easy and direct 
in Lajilace that I cannot imagine anything capable of 
rendering it i^lainer than he has done. But a good deal 
more explanation of what is virtual velocity, &c., would be 
advantageous — and vii'tual velocities should be kept quite 
distinct from the arbitrary variations represented by the 
sign 0. 

With regard to the lorindple of d'Alemhert — take my 
advice and explode it altogether. It is the most awkward 
and uivolved statement of a plam dynamical equation 
that ever puzzled student. I sjieak feelinglj^ and with a 
sense of irritation at the whirls and vortices it used to 
cause in my poor head when first I entered on this 
subject in mj days of studentship. I know not a single 
case where its application does not create obscurity — nay 
doubt. Nor can a case ever occur where any such 
l^rinciple is called for. The general law that the change 
of motion is proportional to the moving force and takes 
place in its direction, provided we take care always to 
regard the reaction of curves, surfaces, obstacles, &c., as 
so many real moving forces of (for a time) unknown 
magnitude, will always help us out of any dynamical 


Mary Somerville. 

scrape Ave may get into. Laplace, page 20, Mec. Cel. art. 
7, is a little obscure here, and in deriving his equation 
(/) a page of explanation would he well hestowed. 

One thing let me recommend, if you use as principles 
either this, or that of virtual velocities, or any other, state 

them broadly and in general terms 

You will think me, I fear, a rough critic, but I thinlv of 
Horace's (jood, critic, 

Fiet Aristarchus : nec dicet, cur ego amicum 
Offendam in ntigis ? Has nugas seria ducent 
In mala, 

and what we can both now laugh at, and you may, if you 
like, burn as nonsense (I mean these remarks), would come 
with a very different kind of force from some sneerhig 
reviewer in the plenitude of his triumph at the detection 
of a slip of the pen or one of those little inaccui'acies 

which humana ■parum cavit natura 

Very faithfully yours, 

J. Herschel. 

[About the same time my father received a letter from 
Dr. Whewell, afterwards Master of Trmity College, 
Cambridge, dated 2nd November, 1831, in which he 
says : — 

" I beg you to offer my best thanks to Mrs. SomerviUe 
for her kind present. I shall have peculiar satisfaction 
in possessing it as a gift of the author, a book which I 
look upon as one of the most remarkable which om- age 
has produced, which would be highly valuable from any- 
one, and which derives a peculiar interest from its writer. 

Dr. Wheivclts Sonnet. 


I am charged also to return the thanks of the Philosophi- 
cal Society here for the copy presented to them. I have 
not thought it necessary to send the official letter con- 
taining the acknowledgment, as Mrs. Somerville will 
prohably have a sufficient collection of specimens of such 
■character. I have also to thank her on the part of our 
College for the copy sent to the library. I am glad that 
oiu' young mathematicians in Trinity will have easy access 
to the book, which will be very good for them as soon as 
they can read it. When Mrs. Somerville shows herself 
in the field which we mathematicians have been labouring 
in all our lives, and jDUts us to shame, she ought not to 
be sm'prised if we move off to other' ground, and betake 
ourselves to j)oetry. If the fashion of ' commendatory 
verses' were not gone by, I have no doubt her work 
might have appeared with a very pretty collection of 
w^eU-deserved poetical iiraises in its introductory pages. 
As old customs linger longest in places lilie this, I hope 
she and you will not think it q[u.ite extravagant to send a 
smgie sonnet on the occasion. 

" Believe me, 

" Faithfully yours, 

"W. Whewell." 


ON HER "mechanism OF THE HEAVENS." 

Lady, it -was the wont in earlier days 
When some fair volume from a valued pen, 
Long looked for, came at last, that grateful men 
Hailed its forthcoming in complacent lays : 
As if the Muse would gladly haste to praise 
That which her mother. Memory, long should keep 
Among her treasures. Shall such usage sleep 
■With us, who feel too slight the common phrase 


Mary Somerville. 

For our pleased thoughts of you, when thus we find 

That dark to you seems bright, perplexed seems plain. 

Seen in the depths of a pellucid mind, 

Full of clear thought, pure from the ill and vain 

That cloud the inward light ? An honoured name 

Be yours ; and peace of heart grow with your growing fame. 

[Professor Peacock, afterwards Dean of EI3', in a letter,, 
dated February 14th, 1832, thanked mj' mother for a 
copy of the " Mechanism of the Heavens." 


" I consider it to be a work which will contribute 
greatly to the extension of the knowledge of physical 
astronomy, in this countr}', and of the great analytical 
processes which have been employed in such investiga- 
tions. It is with this view that I consider it to be a 
work of the greatest value and importance. Dr. "NVhewell 
and myself have ah-eady taken steps to introduce it into 
the course of our studies at Cambridge, and I have little 
doubt that it will immediate^ become an essential work 
to those of our students who aspke to the highest places 
in our examinations." 

[On this my mother remarks : — . 

I consider this as the highest honour I ever 
received, at the time I was no less sensible of 
it, and was most gratefuL I was surprised and 
pleased beyond measure to find that my book 
should be so much approved of by Dr. Whewell, 
one of the most eminent men of the age for 

Professor Peacock. 


■science and literature ; and by Professor Peacock, a 
profound mathematician, who with Herschel and 
Babbage had, a few years before, first introduced the 
calculus as an essential branch of science into the 
University of Cambridge. 

In consequence of this decision the whole edition 
of the " Mechanism of the Heavens," amounting to 
750 copies, was sold chiefly at Cambridge, with the 
■exception of a very few which I gave to friends ; 
but as the preface was the only part of the work 
that was intelligible to the general reader, 1 had 
some copies of it printed separately to give away. 

I was astonished at the success of my book ; all 
the reviews of it were highly favourable ; I received 
letters of congratulation from many men of science. 
I was elected an honorary member of the Eoyal 
Astronomical Society at the same time as Miss 
Caroline Herschel. To be associated with so distin- 
guished an astronomer was in itself an honour. 
Mr. De Morgan, to whom I am indebted for many 
excellent mathematical w^orks, was then secretary of 
the society, and announced to us the distinction 
conferred. The council of the Society ordered that 
a copy of the "Greenwich Observations" should be 
regularly sent to me. 

[The Academie des Sciences elected my mother's old 
friend M. Blotto draw up a report upon her "Mechanism 


Mary Somei ville. 

of the Heavens," which he did in the most flattering 
terms, and upon my mother writing to thank him, repHed 
as follows : — 


EeA^enu deLyon depuis quelques jom^s, j'ai trouve 
a Paris les deux lettres dont vous avez daigne m'honorer, 
et j'ai recu egalement rexemplau'e de votre ouvrage que 
vous avez bien voulu joindre a la derniere. C'est etre 
mille fois trop bonne, Madame, que de me remercier en- 
core de ce qui m'a fait tant de plaisu-. En rendant 
compte de cet etonnant Traite, je remplissais d'abord un 
devoir, puisque I'Academie m'avait charge de le lii'e pour 
elle ; mais ce devou- m'oflfrait un attrait que vous con- 
cevriez facilement, s'il vous etait possible de vous rappeler 
I'admiration vive et profonde que m'inspira il y a long- 
tems I'union si extraordinaii'e de tous les talens et de 
toutes les graces, avec les connaissances severes que 
nous autres hommes avions la folie de croh'e notre 
partage exclusif. Ce qui me charma alors, Madame, je 
n'ai pas cesse depuis de m'en souvenir ; et des rapports 
d'amitie qui me sont bien chers, ont encore, a votre mscu, 
fortifie ces sentimens. Jugez done, Madame, combien 
j'etais heureux d'avoir a peindi-e ce que je comprenais si 
bien, et ce quse j'avais vu avec un sivif interet. Le plus 
amusant poui- moi de cette rencontre, c'etait de voir 
nos plus gi'aves confreres, par exemple, Lacroix et 
Legendre, qui certes ne sont pas des esprits legers, ni 
galans d'habitude, ni faciles a emouvoir, me gom-mander, 
comma ils le faisaient a chaque seance, de ce que je tar- 
dais tant a fau'e mon rapport, de ce que j'y mettais tant 

Dr. Biot 


d'insouciance et si pen cle grace ; enfiii, Madame, c'etait 
une conquete intellectuelle complete. Je n'ai pas manque 
de raconter cette circonstance comme un des flem-ons de 
votre com-omie. Je me suis ainsi acquitte envers eux ; 
et quant a vous, Madame, d'apres la maniere dont vous 
parlez vous-meme de votre ouvrage, j'ai quelque esperance 
de I'avoir presente sous le point de vue oii vous semblez 
I'envisager. Mais, en vous rendant ce juste et sincere 
hommage et en Tinserant au Journal des Savans, je n'ai 
pas eu la precaution de demander qu'on m'en mit a part ; 
aujourd'hui que la collection est tiree je suis aux regrets 
d'avoir ete si peu prevoyant. Au reste, IMadame, il n'y a 
rien dans cet extrait que ce que pensent tons ceux qui 
vous connaissent, on meme qui ont eu une seule fois le 
bonlieur de vous approcher. Vos amis trouveront que 
j'ai exprime bien faiblement les charmes de votre esprit et 
de votre caractere; charmes qu'ils doivent apprecier 
d'autant mieux qu'ils en jouissent plus souvent ; mais 
vous, Madame, qui etes indulgente, vous pardonnerez la 
faiblesse d'un portrait qui n'a pu etre fait que de sou- 

J'ai Thonnem' d'etre, avec le plus profond respect, 


Votre tres humble et tres obeissant serviteur, 


It was unanimoiTsly voted by tlie Royal Society 
of London, that my bust should be placed in their 
great Hall, and Chantrey was chosen as the sculptor. 
Soon after it was finished, Mr. Potter, a grea,t ship- 


Mary Somerville. 

builder at Liverpool, who had just completed a fine 
vessel intended for the China and India trade, wrote 
to my friend, Sir Francis Beaufort, hydrographer of 
the Eoyal Navy,, asking him if I would give hiiri 
permission to call her the " Mary Somerville/' and 
to have a copy of my bust for her figure-head. I 
was much gratified with this, as might l)e expected. 
The "Mary Somerville" sailed, but was never heard 
of again ; it was supposed she had foundered during 
a typhoon in the China sea. 

I was elected an honorary member of the Eoyal 
Academy at Dublin, of the Bristol Philosojjhical 
Institution, and of the Soci^te de Physique et 
cl'Histoire Naturelle of Geneva, which was an- 
nounced to me by a very gratifying letter from 
Professor Prevost. 

Our relations and others who had so severely 
criticized and ridiculed me, astonished at my suc- 
cess, were now loud in my praise. The warmth 
with which Somerville entered into my success 
deeply afi"ected me ; for not one in ten thousand 
would have rejoiced at it as he did ; but he was of 
a generous nature, far above jealousy, and he con- 
tinued through life to take the kindest interest in 
all I did. 

I now received the following letter from Sir 
Eobert Peel, informing me in the handsomest 

Sir Robert Peel. 


manner that he had advised the King to grant 
me a pension of 200?. a year : — 


Whitehall Gardens, 
March, 1835. 


In advising the Crown in respect to the grant 
of civil j)ensions, I have acted equally -with a sense of 
puhhc duty and on the impulse of my own private 
feelings in recognising among the first claims on the 
Royal favour those which are derived from eminence in 
science and hteratm'e. 

In reviewing such claims, it is impossible that I can 
overlook those which you have estabhshed by the 
successful prosecution of studies of the liighest order, 
both from the importance of the objects to which they 
relate, and from the faculties and acquirements which 
they demand. 

As my object is a pubhc one, to encoui'age others to 
follow the bright example which you have set, and to 
prove that great scientific attainments are recognised 
among pubhc claims, I prefer making a direct communi- 
cation to you, to any private inquii'ies into your pecuniary 
cu-ciimstances, or to any proposal through a tlurd partj'-. 
I am enabled to advise His Majesty to gi-ant to you a 
pension on the civil list of tM^o hundred pounds per 
annum ; and if that provision will enable you to pursue 
your laboiu-s with less of anxiety, either as to the present 
or the future, I shall only be fulfilling a pubhc duty, and 
not imposing upon you the slightest obhgation, by 



Mary SomerviUe. 

availing myself of jovx permission to submit sucli a 
recommendation to the ICing. 

I have the honour to be, 
Madam, with the sincerest respect, 

Egbert Peel. 

I was higlily pleased, but my pleasure was of short 
duration, for the very next day a letter informed 
us that by the treachery of persons in whom we 
trusted, the last remains of our capital were lost. 
By the kindness of Lord John Eussell, when he 
was Prime Minister, a hundred a-year was added to 
my pension, for which I was very grateful. 

* * * * Ss 

After the " Mechanism of the Heavens " was pub- 
lished, I was thrown out of Avork, and now that I 
had got into the habit of writing I did not know 
what to make of my spare time. Fortunately the 
preface of my book furnished me with the means 
of active occupation ; for in it I saw such mutual 
dependence and connection in many branches of 
science, that I thought the subject might be carried 
to a greater extent. 

There were many subjects with Avhich I was only 
partially acquainted, and others of which I had no 
previous knowledge, but which required to be care- 
fully investigated, so I had to consult a variety of 



authors, British and foreign. Even the astronomical 
part was difficult, for I had to translate analytical 
formulse into intelligible language, and to draw 
diagrams illustrative thereof, and this occupied the 
first seven sections of the book, I should have been 
saved much trouble had I seen a work on the subject 
by Mr. Airy, Astronomer-Royal, published sub- 
sequently to my book. 

My son, Woronzow Greig, had been educated at 
Trinity College, Cambridge, and was travelling on 
the Continent, when Somerville and I received an 
invitation from the Principal, Dr. Whewell, to visit 
the University. Mr. Airy, then astronomer at 
Cambridge, now Astronomer-Royal at Greenwich, 
and Mrs. Airy kindly wished us to be their guests ; 
but as the Observatory was at some distance from 
Cambridge, it was decided that we should have an 
apartment in Trinity College itself ; an unusual 
favour where a lady is concerned. Mr. Sedgwick, 
the geologist, made the arrangements, received us, 
and we spent the first day at dinner with him. He 
is still alive* — one of my few coevals — either in 
Cambridge or England. The week we spent in 
Cambridge, receiving every honour from the heads 
of the University, was a period of which I have 
•ever borne a proud and grateful remembrance. 

* Professor Sedgwick died shortly after my mother. 

N 2 


Mary Somerville 

[Professor Sedgwick wrote as follows to my father : — 


Trinity College, Afril, 1834. 

My DEAR Somerville, 

Your letter delighted us. I have ordered dinner 
on Thursday at 0^ and shall liave a small partj-^ to 
welcome you and Mrs. Somerville. In order that we 
may not have to fight for you, we have heen entering on 
the hest ax-rangements we can tliink of. On Tuesday you 
will, I hope, dine with Peacock ; on Wednesdaj-- with 
Whewell ; on Thursday at the Observatory. For Frida.y, 
Dr. Clarke, our Professor of Anatomy, puts in a claim. 
For the other days of your visit we shall, D.V., find ample 
employment. A four-poster bed now (a thing utterty out 
of our regular monastic system) will rear its head for jo\x. 
and Madame in the chambers immediately below my 
own ; and your handmaid may safely rest her bones iu a 
small inner chambeii. Should Sheepshanks return, we 
can stuff him into a lumber room of the observatory ; but 
of this there is no fear as I have mitten to liim on the 
subject, and he has no immediate intention of returning. 
You will of course drive to the great gate of Trmit}^ 
College, and my servant will be in waiting at the Porter's 
lodge to show you the way to your academic residence. 
We have no cannons at Trinity College, otherwise we 
would fire a salute on ^your entry ; we will however give 
you the warmest greeting we can. Meanwhile give my 
best regards to Mrs. S. 

And believe me most truly yours, 

A. Sedgwick. 

La Place, 


La Place had a profound veneration for Newton ; 
lie sent me a copy of his " Syst^me du Monde," and 
a letter, dated 15th August, 1824, in which he says : 
" Je public successivement les divers livres du cin- 
cjuieme livre qui doit terminer mon traite de 
^Mecanique Celeste,' et dans cela je donne I'analyse 
historique des recherches des geom^tres sur cette 
matiere, cela m'a fait I'elire avec une attention par- 
ticuliere I'ouvrage si incomparable des principes 
mathematiques de la philosophic naturelle de Newton, 
qui contient le germe de toutes ses recherches. Plus 
j'ai ^tudie cet ouvrage plus il m'a paru admirable, 
en me transportant surtout a I'epoque ou il a ete 
publie, Mais en meme terns que je sens I'elegancc 
de la methode synthetique suivant laquelle Newton 
a presente ses d^couvertes, j'ai reconnu I'indispen- 
sahle necessite de I'analyse pour approfondir les 
questions tres difficUes que Ne wton n'a pu qu'effleurer 
par la synthese. Je vois avec un grand plaisir vos 
mathematiciens se livrer maintenant a I'analyse et 
je ne doute point qu'en suivant cette methode avec 
la sagacite propre a votre nation ils ne seront con- 
duits a d'importantes decouvertes," 

Newton himself was aware that by the law of 
gravitation the stability of the solar system was 
endangered. The power of analysis alone enabled 
La Grange to prove that all the disturbances arising 


Mary Somerville. 

from the reciprocal attraction of the planets and 
satellites are periodical, whatever the length of the 
periods may be, so that the stability of the solar 
system is insured for unlimited ages. The pertur- 
bations are only the oscillations of that immense- 
pendulum of Eternity which beats centuries as ours 
beats seconds. 

La Place, and aU the great mathematicians of that 
period, had scarcely passed away when the more 
powerful Quaternion system began to dawn. 



My health was never good at Chelsea, and as I had 
been Trorking too hard, I became so ill, that change 
of air and scene were thought absolutely necessary 
for me. We went accordingly to Paris ; partly, because 
it was near home, as Somerville could not remain 
long with us at a time, and, partly, because avc 
thought it a good opportunity to give masters to 
the girls, which we could not afford to do in London. 
When we arrived, I was so weak, that I always 
remained in bed writing till one o'clock, and then, 
either went to sit in the Tuileries gardens, or else 
received visits. All my old friends came to see me, 
Arago, the first. He was more engaged in politics 
than science, and as party spirit ran very high at 
that time, he said he would send tickets of admission 
to the Chambers every time there was likely to be 
an " orage." When I told him what I was writing, 


Mary Sotnerville. 

lie gave me some interesting memoirs, and lent me 
a mass of manuscripts, with, leave to make extracts, 
"which were very useful to me. General cle La 
Fayette came to town on purpose to invite 
Somerville and me to visit him at La Grange, 
where we found him living like a patriarch, sur- 
rounded by his family to the fourth generation. 
He was mild, highly distinguished, and noble in his 
manners ; his conversation was exceedingly in- 
teresting, as he readily spoke of the Eevolution in 
whicb he had taken so active a ^^art. Among other 
anecdotes, he mentioned, that he bad sent the prin- 
cipal key of the Bastile to General Washington, 
who kept it under a glass case. He was much in- 
terested to hear that I could, in some degTee, claim 
a kind of relationship with Washington, whose 
mother was a Fairfax. Baron Fairfax, the head of 
the family, being settled in America, had joined 
the independent party at the Eevolution. 

The two daughters of La Fayette, who had been 
in prison witb him at Olmlitz, were keen politicians, 
and discussed points with a warmth of gesticulation 
which amused Somerville and me, accustomed to 
our cold still manners. The grand-daughters, 
Mesdames de Remusat and de Corcelles, were 
kind friends to me all the time I was in Paris. 

M. Bouvard, whom we had knoAra in London, 

French Savants. 


was now Astroiiomer-Eoyal of France, and lie invited 
us to dine with liim at the Observatory. The table 
was surroimded by savants, who complimented me 
on the " Mechanism of the Heavens." I sat next 
M. Poisson, who advised me in the strongest manner 
to write a second volume, so as to complete the 
account of La Place's works ; and he afterwards 
told Somerville, that there were not twenty men in 
France who could read my book. M. Arago, who 
was of the party, said, he had not written to thank 
me for my book, because he had been reading it, and 
Avas busy j)reparing an account of it for the Journal 
of the Institute. At this party, I made the acquaint- 
ance of the celebrated astronomer, M. Pontecoulant, 
and soon after, of M. La Croix, to whose works I was 
indebted for my knowledge of the highest iDranches 
of mathematics. M. Prony, and M. Poinsot, came 
to visit me, the latter, an amiable and gentlemanly 
person ; both gave me a copy of their works. 

We had a long visit from M. Biot, who seemed 
really glad to renew our old friendship. He was 
making experiments on light, though much out of 
health ; but when we dined with him and Madame 
Biot, he forgot for the time his bad health, and re- 
sumed his former gaiety. They made us promise 
to visit them at their countiy-house when we re- 
turned to England, as it lay on our road. 


Mary Soine7'ville. 

To my infinite regret, La Place had been dead 
some time ; the Marquise was still at Arcoeuil, and 
we went to see her. She received us with the 
greatest warmth, and devoted herself to us the 
whole time we were in Paris. As soon as she came 
to town, we went to make a morning visit ; it was 
past five o'clock ; we were shown into a beautiful 
drawing-room, and the man-servant, without knock- 
ing at the door, Avent into the room which was 
adjacent, and we heard her call out, " J'irai la voir ! 
j'irai la voir ! " and when the man-servant came 
out, he said, " Madame est desolee, mais elle est en 
chemise." Madame de La Place was exceedingly 
agreeable, the life of every party, with her cheerful 
gay manner. She was in great favour with the 
Koyal Family, and was always welcome when she 
went to visit them in an evening. She received 
once a week, and her grand-daughter, only nineteen, 
lovely and graceful, was an ornament to her parties. 
She Avas already married to M. de Colbert, whose 
father fell at Corunna. 

No one was more attentive to me than Dr. 
Milne-Edwards, the celebrated natural historian. 
He was the first Englishman who Avas elected 
a member of the Listitute. I was indebted 
to him for the acquaintance of MM. Ampere and 
Becquerel. I believe Dr. EdAA^ards Avas at that time 

Female Society. 


Avriting on Physiology, and, in conversation, I hap- 
pened to mention that the wild ducks in the fens, at 
Lincolnshire, always build their nests on high tufts, 
of grass, or reeds, to save them from sudden floods ; 
and that Sir John Sebright had raised wild ducks 
imder a hen, which built their nests on tufts of 
grass as if they had been in the fens. Dr. Edwards 
begged of me to inquire for how many generations 
that instinct lasted. 

Monsieur and Madame Gay Lussac lived in the 
Jardin des Plantes. Madame was only twenty-one, 
exceedingly pretty, and well-educated ; she read 
English and German, painted prettily, and was a 
musician. She told me it had been computed, 
that if all the property in France were equally 
divided among the population, each person would 
have 150 francs a-year, or four sous per day ; so' 
that if anyone should spend eight sous a-day, some 
other person would starve. 

The Duchesse de Broglie, Madame de Stael's 
daughter, called, and invited us to her receptions, 
which were the most brilliant in Paris. Every 
person of distinction was there, French or foreign, 
generally four or five men to one woman. The 
Duchess was a charming woman, both handsome 
and amiable, and received with much grace. The 
Duke was, then, Minister for Foreign Affairs. They 


Mary Somerville. 

were remarkable for their domestic virtues, as well 
as for high intellectual cultivation. The part the 
Duke took in politics is so well known, that I need 
not allude to it here. 

At some of these parties I met with Madame 
Charles Dupin, whom I liked much. When I went 
to return her visit, she received us in her bed-room. 
She was a fashionable and rather elegant woman, 
with perfect manners. She invited us to dinner 
to meet her brother-in-law, the President of the 
Chamber of Deputies. He Avas animated and 
witty, very fat, and more ugly than his brother, 
but both were clever and agreeable. The President 
invited me to a very brilliant ball he gave, but as it 
was on a Sunday I could not accept the invitation. 
We went one evening with Madame Charles Dupin 
to be introduced to Madame de Kumford. Her first 
husband, Lavoisier, the chemist, had been guillotined 
at the Eevolution, and she was now a widow, but 
had lived long separated from her second husband. 
She was enormously rich, and had a magnificent 
palace, garden, and conservatory, in Avhich she gave 
balls and concerts. At all the evening parties in 
Paris the best bed-room was lighted up for reception 
like the other rooms. Madame de Eumford was 
capricious and ill-tempered ; however, she received 
me very well, and invited me to meet a very large 

French Society. 


party at dinner. Mr. Fenimore Coo^oer, the Ameri- 
caii novelist, with his wife and daughter, Avere 
among the guests. I found him extremely amiable 
and agreeable, which surprised me, for when I knew 
him in England he was so touchy that it was- 
difficult to converse with him without giving him 
offence. He was introduced to Sir Walter Scott by 
Sir James Mackintosh, who said, in presenting him,. 
" Mr. Cooper, allow me to introduce you to your 
great forefather in the art of fiction " ; " Sir," said 
Cooper, with great asperity, " I have no forefather." 
Now, though his manners were rough, they were 
quite changed. We saw a great deal of him, and 
I was frequently in his house, and found him per- 
fectly liberal ; so much so, that he told us the 
faults of his country with the greatest frankness,, 
yet he was the champion of America, and hated 

None were kinder to us than Lord and Lady 
Granville. Lady Granville invited us to all her 
parties ; and when Somerville was obliged to return 
to England, she assured him that in case of any dis- 
tm'bance, we should find a refuge in the Embassy, 
I went to some balls at the Tuileries with Madame 
de Lafayette Lasteyrie and her sister. The Queen 
Am^lie was tall, thin, and very fair, not pretty^ 
but infinitely more regal than Adelaide, Queen of 


Mary Somerville. 

England, at that time. The Koyal Family used to 
walk about in the streets of Paris without any 

Sir Sydney Smith was still in Paris trying to 
renew the order of the Knights Templars. Somer- 
ville and I went with him one evening to a recep- 
tion at the Duchesse d'Abrantes, widow of Junot. 
She was short, thick, and not in the least dis- 
tinguished-looking, nor in any way remarkable. I 
had met her at the Duchesse de Broglie's, where she 
talked of Junot as if he had been in the next room. 
Sir Sydney was quite covered with stars and crosses, 
and I was amused with the way he threw his 
cloak back to display them as he handed me to the 

I met with Prince Kosloffsky everywhere ; he 
was the fattest man I ever saw, a perfect Fal- 
staff. However, his intellect was not smothered, 
for he would sit an horn- mth me talking 
about mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, and 
what not. He was banished from Russia, and as 
he had been speaking imprudently about poKtics in 
Paris, he was ordered to go elsewhere ; still, he 
lingered on, and was with me one morning when 
Pozzo di Borgo, the Russian Ambassador called. 
Pozzo di Borgo said to me, " Are you aware that 
Prince Kosloffsky has left Paris ? " " Oh yes," I 



said, " I regret it much." He took the hint, and 
went away directly. 

I had hitherto been entirely among the Liberal 
set. How it came that I was invited to dine with 
M. H^ricourt de Thiiry, I do not remember. M. de 
Thury was simple in his manners, and full of in- 
formation ; he had been Director of the Mines under 
Napoleon, and had charge of the Public Buildings 
under Louis XVHL and Charles X., but resigned 
his charges at the Eevolution of July. At this time 
the Duchesse de Berry was confined in the citadel of 
Blaye. She had a strong party in Paris, who 
furiously resented the treatment she met with. 
M."* de Thury was a moderate Legitimisfce, but 
Madame was ultra. When I happened to mention 
that we had been staying with Lafayette, at La 
Grange, she was horrified, and begged of me not to 
talk poHtics, or mention where we had been, or 
else some of her guests would leave the room. The 
ladies of that party would, not dance or go to any 
gay party ; they had a part of the theatre reserved 
for themselves ; they wore high dark dresses with 
long sleeves, called "Robes de Resistance," and 
even the Legitimiste newspapers appeared with 
black edges. They criticised those who gave balls, 
and Lady Granville herself did not escape their 
censure. The marriage of the Duchesse de Berry to 


Mary Somervtlle. 

the Marchcse Lucchesi Palli made an immense sen- 
sation ; it was discussed in the salons in a truly- 
French manner ; it was talked of in the streets ; 
the Robes de Resistance were no longer worn, and 
the Legitimiste newspapers went out of mourning. 

All parties criticised the British Administration 
in Ireland. A lady sitting by me at a party said, 
" No wonder so many English prefer France to so 
odious a country^ as England, where the people are 
oppressed, and even cabbages are raised in hot- 
beds." I laughed, and said, " I like England very- 
well, for all that." An old gentleman, who was 
standing near us, said, " Whatever terms two 
countries may be on, it behoves us individuals^to 
observe good manners ;" and when I went away, this 
gentleman handed me to the carriage, though I had 
never seen him before. 

The Marquise de La Place was commissioned by 
Dr. Majendie to invite me to meet her and Madame 
Gay Lussac at dinner. I was very unwilling to go ; 
for I detested the man for his w^anton cruelties, but 
I found I could not refuse on account of these 
ladies. There was a large party of savaoits, agreeable 
and gentlemanly; but Majendie himself had the 
coarsest manners ; his conversation was horridly 
professional ; many things were said and subjects 
discussed not fit for women to hear. What a con- 

Majeiidie and Bell. 


trast the refined and amiable Sir Charles Bell formed 
with Majendie ! Majendie and the French school of 
anatomy made themselves odious by their cruelty, 
and failed to prove the true anatomy of the brain 
and jierves, while Sir Charles Bell did succeed, and 
thus made one of the greatest physiological dis- 
coveries of the age without torturing animals, which 
his gentle and kindly nature abhorred. To Lady 
Bell I am indebted for a copy of her husband's Life. 
She is one of my few dear and valued friends who 
are still alive. 

* * * * * 

While in Paris, I lost my dear mother. She died 
at the age of ninety, attended by my brother 
Henry. She was still a fine old lady, with few 
grey hairs. The fear of death was almost hereditary 
in the Charters family, and my mother possessed it 
in no small degree ; yet when it came, she was 
perfectly composed and prepared for it. I have 
never had that fear ; may God grant that I may be 
as calm and prepared as she was. 


I was in better health, but still so delicate that I 
Avrote in bed till one o'clock. The " Connexion of 
the Physical Sciences " was a tedious work, and 
the proof sheets had to be sent through the Embassy. 

M. Arago told me that David, the sculptor, 

Mary Somerville. 

wished to make a medallion of me ; so lie came and 
sat an hour with me, and pleased me by his in- 
telligent conversation and his enthusiasm for art, 
A day was fixed, and he took my profile on slate 
with pink wax, in a wonderfully short time, • He 
made me a present of a medallion in bronze, nicely 
framed, and two plaster casts for my daughters. 

I frequently went to hear the debates in the 
Chambers, and occasionally took my girls, as I 
thought it was an excellent lesson in French, As 
party spirit ran very high, the scenes that occurred 
were very amusing, A member, in the course of 
his speech, happening to mention the word " liberte," 
the President Dupin rang the bell, called out " Stop, 
a propos de liberte," . . . jumped down from his 
seat, sprung into the tribune, pushed out the deputy, 
and made a long speech himself. 

The weather being fine, we made excursions 
in the neighbourhood. At Sevres I saw two 
pieces of china; on one of them was a gnu, on 
the other a zebra, Somerville had told me that 
soon after his return from his African expedition, he 
had given the original drawings to M. Brongniart 
then director of the manufactory. 

Baron Louis invited me to spend a day with him 
and his niece. Mademoiselle de Rigny, at his country 

Baron Louis. 


liouse, not far from Paris. I went with Madame 
de la Place, and we set out early, to be in time for 
breakfast. The road lay through the Forest of 
Vincennes. The Baron's park, which was close to 
the village of Petit-Brie, was very large, and richly 
wooded ; there were gardens, hot-houses, and all 
the luxuries of an English nobleman's residence. 
The house was handsome, with a magnificent library ; 
I remarked on the table the last numbers of the 
" Edinburgh " and " Quarterly " Eeviews. Both 
the Baron and his niece were simple and kincL 
I was greatly taken with both ; the Baron had all 
the quiet elegance of the old school, and his niece 
had great learning and the manners of a woman of 
fashion. She lived in perfect retirement, having 
sufiered much in the time of the Eevolution. 
They had both eventful lives ; for Baron Louis, who 
had been in orders, and Talleyrand officiated at the 
Champs de Mars when Louis the Sixteenth took 
the oath to maintain the constitution. Field- 
Marshal Macdonald, Due de Tarante, and his son- 
in-law, the Due de Massa ; Admiral de Pigny, 
Minister of Marine ; M. Barthe, Garde des Sceaux ; 
and the Bouvards, father and son, formed the j^arty. 
After spending a most delightful and interesting 
day, we drove to Paris in bright moonlight. 

Our friends in Paris and at La Grange had been 

0 2 


Maiy Somerville. 

so kind to us that we were very sad wKen we went 
to express our gratitude and take leave of them. 
We only stayed two days at La Grange, and when 
we returned to Paris, Somerville went home and 
my son joined us, when we made a rapid tour in 
Switzerland, the only remarkable event of which 
was a singular atmospheric phenomenon we saw 
on the top of the Grimsel. On the clouds of 
vapour below us we saw our shadows projected, of 
giant proportions, and each person saw his own 
shadow surrounded by a bright circle of prismatic 
colours. It is not uncommon in mountain regions, 

[General Lafayette and all his family were extremely 
Idnd to my mother. He was her constant Adsitor, and 
we twice visited him at his country house, La Grange. 
He wished to persuade my mother to go there for some 
days, after our return from Switzerland, which we did not 
accomphsh. The General wrote the following letter to 
my father : — 


La Grange, Sis* Octobe?; 1833. 

My deae Sir, 

I waited to answer your kind letter, for the 
aiTival of Mr. Coke's* precious gift, which nobody could 
higher value, on eveiy account, than the grateful farmer 
on whom it has been bestowed. The heifers and bull 

* Mr. Coke,, of Holkham, afterwards Earl of Leicester. . 



are beautiful ; they have reached La Grange in the best 
order, and shall be tenderly attended to. . . . It has been 
a great disai^pointment not to see Mrs. Somerville and 
the j^oung ladies before theu' departui-e. Had we not de- 
pended on theii" kind visit, we should have gone to take 
leave of them. They have had the goodness to regret the 
impossibility to come before their departure. Be so Idnd 
as to receive the affectionate friendsliip and good wishes 
of a family who are happy in the ties of mutual attachment 
that bind us to jovl and them. . . . Public interest is now 
fixed upon the Peninsula, and while dynasties are at civil 
war, and despotic ov juste onilieu cabinets seem to agree 
in the fear of a genuine development of popular institu- 
tions, the matter for the friends of freedom is to know 
how far the great cause of Europe shall be forwarded by 
these royal squabbles. 

We shall remain at La Grange until the opening of the 
session, hoping that, notwithstanding your and the ladies' 
absence, your attention will not be quite withdrawn from 
our interior affairs — the sympathy shaU be reciprocal. 
With all my heart, I am 

Your affectionate friend, 




As soon as we returned to Chelsea, the " Con- 
nexion of the Physical Sciences " was published. It 
was dedicated to Queen Adelaide, who thanked me 
for it at a drawing-room. Some time after Somerville 
and I went to Scotland ; we had travelled all night 
in the mail coach, and when it became light, a 
gentleman who was in the carriage said to Somer- 
ville, " Is not the lady opposite to me Mrs. Somer- 
viUe, whose bust I saw at Chantrey's 1 " The 
gentleman was Mr, Sopwith, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, 
a civil and mining engineer. He was distinguished 
for scientific knowledge, and had been in London 

The Egyptian Year. 199 

to give information to a parliamentary committee. 
He travelled faster than we did, and when we 
arrived at Newcastle he was waiting to take us to 
his house, where we were hospitably received by 
Mrs. Sopwith. His conversation was highly in- 
teresting, and to him I was indebted for much 
information on mining generally, and on the mineral 
wealth of Great Britain, while writing on Physical 
Geography. Many years after he and Mrs, Sopwith 
came and saw me at Naples, which gave me much 
pleasure. He was unlike any other traveller I 
ever met with, so jorofound and original were his 
observations on aU he saw. 

On coming home I found that I had made an 
error in the first edition of the " Physical Sciences," in 
giving 365 days 6 hours as the length of the civil 
year of the ancient Egyptians. My friend Mr. 
Hallam, the historian, wrote to me, proving from 
history and epochs of the chronology of the ancient 
Egyptians, that their civil year was only 365 days. 
I was grateful to that great and amiable man for 
copies of aU his works while he was alive, and I am 
obliged to his daughter for an excellent likeness of 
him, now that he is no more. 


Mary Somerville. 


WlMPq^LE Street, March \Wi, 1835. 

My deae Madam, 

As 3^ou will probably soon be called upon for 
another edition of your excellent work on the " Connexion 
of the Physical Sciences," I think you will excuse the 
liberty I take in mentioning to you one passage which 
seems to have escaped your attention in so arduous a 
labour. It is in page 104, where j^ou have this sen- 
tence : — 

"The EgyiDtians estimated the year at 365 d. 6h., 
by which they lost one year in every 14,601, their Sothiac 
period. They determined the length of theii- year by 
the heliacal rising of Sirius, 2782 years before the Chris- 
tian era, which is the earhest epoch of Egj^jtian chron- 

The Egyptian civil year was of 365 days. only, as we 
find in Herodotus, and I apprehend there is no dispute 
about it. The Sothiac period, or that cycle in which the 
heliacal rising of Sirius passed the whole civil year, and 
took place again on th"e same daj^ was of 1461 years, not 
14,601. If they had adopted a year of 365 d. 6h., 
this period wou^ld have been more than three tunes 
14,601 ; the excess of the sidereal year above that being 
only 9' 9", which will not amount to a day in less than 
about 125 years. 

I do not see how the heliacal rising of Sirius in any one 
year could help them to determine its length. By com- 
paring two successive ,years thej'' could of course have got 
at a sidereal year ; but this is what they did not do ; 
hence the irregularity which produced the canicular cycle. 

Unpublished Writing. 201 

The commencement of that cycle is placed by ancient 
chronolosers in 1322 A.c. It seems not correct to call 
2782 A.c. " the earliest epoch of Egj^ptian chronology," 
for we have none of their chronologj^ nearly so old, and 
in fact no chronology, pro]perly so called, has yet been 
made out by om" Egyptian researches. It is indeed cer- 
tain that, if the reckoning by heliacal risings of Sirius did 
not begin m 1322, we must go nearly 1460 years back for 
its origin ; since it must have been adojited when that 
event preceded only for a short time the annual inunda- 
tion of the Nile. But, according to some, the year 1322 
A.c. fell during the reign of Sesostris, to whom Herodotus 
ascribes several regulations connected with the rising of 
the Nile. Certainly, 2782 a.c. is a more remote era than 
we are hitherto warranted to assume for any astronomical 

Believe me, dear Mrs. Somerville, 

Very truly yours, 

Henry Hallam. 

I refer you to Montucla, if you have any doubt about 
the Egj^ptian year being of 365 days without bissextile of 
any kind. 

I had sent a copy of the " Mechanism of the 
Heavens " to M. Poisson soon after it was published, 
and I had received a letter from him dated 30tli 
May, 1832, advising me to complete the work by 
writing a volume on the form and rotation of the 
earth and planets. Being again strongly advised to 


Mary Somerville. 

do so while in Paris, I now began the work, and, in 
consequence, I was led into a correspondence with 
Mr. Ivory, who had written on the subject, and also 
with Mr. Francis Baily, on the density and com- 
pression of the earth. My work was extensive, for 
it comprised the analytical attraction of spheroids, 
the form and rotation of the earth, the tides of the 
ocean and atmosphere, and small undulations. 

When this was finished, I had nothing to do, 
and as I preferred analysis to all other subjects, 
I wrote a work of 246 pages on curves and sur- 
faces of the second and higher orders. While 
writing this, con amove, a new edition of the 
" Physical Sciences " was much needed, so I put 
on high pressure and worked at both. Had these 
two manuscripts been published at that time, they 
might have been of use ; I do not remember why 
they were laid aside, and forgotten till I found 
them years afterwards among my papers. Long 
after the time I am writing about, while at Naples, 
I amused myself by repairing the time-worn parts 
of these manuscripts, and was surprised to find that 
in my eighty-ninth year I still retained facility in 
the " Calculus." 

The second edition of the " Physical Sciences " 
was dedicated to my dear friend, Sir John Herschel. 
It went through nine editions, and has been trans- 

The Duchess of Kent. 203 

lated into German and Italian. The book went 
throngli various editions in the United States, to 
the honour, but not to the profit, of the author. 
However, the publisher obligingly sent me a copy. 
I must say that profit was never an object with 
me : I wrote because it was impossible for me to 
be idle. 

I had the honour of presenting a copy of my 
book to the Duchess of Kent at a private audience. 
The Duchess and Princess Victoria were alone, and 
received me very graciously, and conversed for half 
an hour with me. As I mentioned before, I saw 
. the young Princess crowned : youthful, almost child- 
like as she was, she went through the imposing 
ceremony with all the dignity of a Queen. 

[A few letters from some of my mother's friends, 
written at this period, maj^ prove of interest. They 
are chiefly written to thank her for copies of the Pre- 
liminary Dissertation or of the "Physical Sciences." 
One from Lord Brougham concerns my mother's esti- 
mate of the scientific merit of Dr. Young, for whom she 
had the sincerest admiration, and considered him one 
of the first philosophers and discom'sers of the age. 


Edgwoethtown, May Zlst, 1832. 
My deae Mbs. Somerville, 

There is one satisfaction at least in giving 
knowledge to the ignorant, to those who know their 


Mary Somerville. 

ignorance at least, that they are grateful and humble. 
You should have my grateful and humble thanks long 
ago for the favour — the honour — j^ou did me by sending 
me that PreHminary Dissertation, in which there is so 
much knowledge, but that I really wished to read it over 
and over again at some intervals of time, and to have 
the pleasure of seeing mj' sister Harriet read it, before 
I should write to you. She has come to us, and has 
just been enjoying it, as I knew she would. For my 
part, I was long in the state of the. boa constrictor after 
a full meal — and I am but just recovering the powers of 
motion. My mind was so distended by the magnitude, 
the immensity, of what you put into it ! I am afraid 
that if you had been aware how ignorant I was jou would 
not have sent me this dissertation, because j'ou would 
have felt that you were throwing away much that I 
could not imderstand, and that could be better bestowed 
on scientific friends capable of judgmg of what they 
admire. I can only assure j'^ou that you have given me 
a great deal of pleasure ; that you have enlarged my con- 
ception of the sublimity of the universe, beyond any ideas 
I had ever before been enabled to form. 

The great simplicity of your manner of writing, I may 
say of your mind, Avhich appears in j'our writing, parti- 
cularly suits the scientific sublime — which would be 
destroyed by what is commonly called fine writing. You 
trust sufficiently to the natural interest of your subject, 
to the importance of the facts, the beauty of the whole, 
and the adaptation of the means to the ends, in every 
part of the immense whole. This reliance upon your 
reader's feeling along with you, was to me very gratifymg. 
The ornaments of eloquence dressing out a sublime 
subject are just so many proofs either of bad taste in the 

Miss Edgeworth. 


orator, or of distrust and couterapt of the taste of those 
whom he is trying thus to captivate. 

I suppose nobody yet has completely mastered the 
tides, therefore I may well content myself with my iu- 
abihty to comprehend what relates to them. But instead 

0 plaguing you with an endless enumeration of my diffi- 
culties, I had better tell you some of the passages which 
gave me, ignoramus as I am, pecuhar pleasure 

1 am afraid I shall transcribe your whole book if I go 
on to teU you aU that has struck me, and you would not 
thank me for that — you, who have so little vanity, and 
so much to do better with your time than to read my 
ignorant admkation. But pray let me mention to you 
a few of the passages that amused my imagination 
particularly, viz., 1st, the inhabitant of Pallas going 
round his world — or who might go — -in five or six 
hours in one of our steam carriages ; 2nd, the moderate- 
sized man who would weigh two tons at the surface 
of the sun — and who would weigh only a few pounds 
at the surface of the four new planets, and would be 
so hght as to find it impossible to stand from the 
excess of muscular force ! I think a very entertaining 
dream might be made of a man's visit to the sun and 
planets — these ideas are all like dreamy feelings when one 
is a little feverish. I forgot to mention (page 58) a passage 
on the propagation of sound. It is a beautiful sentence, 
as well as a sublime idea, ** so that at a very small height 
above the surface of the earth, the noise of the tempest 
ceases and the thimder is heai'd no more in those bound- 
less regions, where the heavenly bodies accomplish their 
periods in eternal and subHme silence." 

Excuse me in my trade of sentence-monger, and beliere 


Mary Somerville. 

me, dear Mrs. Somerville, truly your obliged and truly 
your affectionate friend, 

Maria Edgeworth. 

I have persuaded your dear curly-headed friend, 
Harriet, to add her own observations; she sends her 
love to you; and I know you love her, otherwise I would 
not j)ress her to write her own my. 


Hampstead, Februwry 1st, 1832, 

My dear Mrs. Somerville, 

I am now, thank God ! recovered from a veiy 
heavy disease, but still very weak. I will not, however, 
delay any longer my grateful acknowledgments for your 
very flattering gift of your Preliminary Dissertation. 
Indeed, I feel myself greatly honoured by receiving such 
a mark of regard from one who has done more to remove 
the light estimation in which the capacity of women is 
too often held, than all that has been accomphshed by 
the whole sisterhood of poetical damsels and novel- 
writing authors. I could say much more on this subject 
were I to follaw my own feelings ; but I am still so 
weak that writing is a trouble to me, and I have nearly 
done all that I am able. 

God bless and prosper you ! 

Yours gi'atefully and truly, 

J. Baillie. 

Miss Berry. 207 


Bellevue, ]8t/i Septevibor, 1834. 

My dear Mrs. Somerville, 

I have just finished reading your book, which has 
entertained me extremely, and at the same time, I hope, 
improved my moral character in the Christian virtue of 
humility. These must appear to you such odd results — 
so little like those produced on the great majority of 
your readers, that you must allow me to explain them to 
you. Humbled, I must be, by finding my own intellect 
unequal to following, beyond a first step, the explanations 
by which you seek to make easy to comprehension the 
marvellous phenomena of the universe — humbled, by 
feehng the intellectual dilference between you and me, 
placing you as much above me in the scale of reasoning 
beings, as I am above my dog. Still I rejoice with 
humiUty at feeling myself, in that order of understand- 
ings which, although utterly incaiDable of following the 
chain of your reasonings, calculations, and inductions — 
utterly deprived of the powers necessary sic itur ad 
astra — am yet informed, enlightened, and entertained with 
the series of sublime truths to which you conduct me. 

In some foggy morning of November, I shaU drive out 
to you at Chelsea and surprise you with my ignorance 
of science, by asking you to explain to me some thmgs 
which you will ivonder any one can have so long existed 
without knowing. In the mean time, I wish you could 
read in any combination of the stars the probability of 
our often having such a season as this, of iminterrupted 
summer since April last, and when last week it was 
sobering into autumn, has now returned to enter 


Mary Somcrville. 

summei' again. The thermometer was at 83^ in the 
shade yesterday, and to-da}' promises to be as much. 
We are delighted with our two months' residence at this 
place, which we shall see with regret draw towards a 
close the end of this month. October we mean to spend 
at Paris, before we return to the nebulosities of London. 
During my residence in Paris, before we came here, I 
never had the good luck to meet with your fi'iend M. 
Arago ; had I not been reading your book, I should 
have begged you to give me a letter for him. But as it 
is, and as my stay at Paris wiU now be so short, I shall 
content myself with looking up at a respectful distance to 
all your great fixed stars of science, excepting always 
yourself, dear Mrs. Somerville. No " disturbing influ- 
ence " will, I hope, ever throw me out of the orbit of 
your intimacy and friendship, whose value, believe me, is 
most duly and accurately calculated by yom- ignorant 
but very affectionate friend, 

M. Beery. 



My dear Mrs. Somerville, 

Many thanks for the sheets, wliich I have read 
with equal pleasure and instruction as those I formerly 
had from you. One or two things I could have troubled 
you with, but they are of little moment. I shaU note them. 
The only one that is at all material relates to the way you 
mention Dr. Young — not that I object to the word " illus- 
trious," or as applied to him. But as you don't give it 
to one considerably more so, it looks either as if you over- 
rated him, or underrated Davy, or (which I suppose to be 

Mrs. Marcet. 


the truth) as if you felt Young had not had his due share of 
honour, and desired to make it up to liis memory. Observe 
I give him a very high place — hut Davj^'s discoveries are 
both of more unquestioned originaUty and more un- 
doubtedly true — perhaps I should say, more brought to 
a close. The alkahs and the principle of the safety 
lamp are concluded and fixed, the undulation is m pro- 
gress, and somewhat uncertain as to how and where it 
may end. You will please to observe that I reckon both 
those capital discoveries of Davy the fruit of inquiry, 
and not at all of chance — for, as to the lamp, it is plain ; 
and as to the metals, if you look at the inquiries that 
immediately preceded, you will see he was thereby led 
to the alkalis. Indeed, I weU remember saying, when 
I read them, " He will analyse lime and barytes." I am 
quite ready to admit his extreme folly m some things, 
but that is nothing to the present i)iu-pose. 

H. B. 
{Henry Brougham.) 


Geneva, 6th Apnl, 1834. 

Dear Mrs. Somerville, 

I am desired by Professor Prevost to inform 
you ihat you were elected an honorary member of the 
Societe de Physique et d'Histoii-e Naturelle de Geneve 
on the 3rd AprU, and that a diploma will be forwarded 
to you by the earHest opportunity. After all the honom's 
you have received, this little feather is hardly worthy of 
waving in your plume, but I am glad that Geneva should 



Mary Somerville. 

Imow liow to appreciate j^our merit. You receive great 
honours, my dear friend, but tliatwliich you confer on our 
sex is stiU greater, for with talents and acquii'ements of 
masculine magnitude you unite the most sensitive and 
retiring modesty of the female sex ; indeed, I know not 
any woman, j)erhaps I might say, any human being, who 
would support so much applause without feehng the 
weakness of vanity. Forgive me for allowing my pen 
to run away with this imdisguised praise, it looks so 
much lilce compliment, but I assure you it comes 
straight from the heart, and you must know that it is 

fully deserved I know not whether you have 

heard of the death of Professor de la Eive (the father) ; 
it was an unexpected blow, which has fallen hea-sily on 
all his family. It is indeed a great loss to Geneva, 
both as a man of science and a most excellent citizen. 

M. Rossi* has left us to occupy the chair of pohtical 
economy of the late M. Say, at Paris ; his absence is 
sadly felt, and it is in vain to look around for any one 

capable of replacing him 

Yours affectionately, 

J. jVIakcet. 


Crescent, Bedford, Octobei' 3rd, 1835. 

My dear Madam, 

As an opportunity offers of sending a note to 
town, I beg to mention that I have somewhat impatiently 
waited for some appearance of settled weather, in order 

* M. Pellegrino Eossi, afterwards Minister of France at Eome, then 
Prime Minister to Pius the Ninth ; murdered in 1S4S on the steps 
of the Cancelleria, at Eome. 

Admiral Smyth. 


to press your coming here to inspect Halley's comet, 
before it should have become visible to the unassisted 
eye. That unerring monitor, however, the barometer, 
held foi-th no hope, and the ceaseless traveller is abeady 
an object of conspicuous distinction without artificial 
aid, except, perhaps, to most eyes an opera-glass, mag- 
nifying three or fom- times, will be found a pleasant 
addition. It is now gliding along with wonderful celerity, 
and the nucleus is very bright. It is accompanied with 
a great luminosity, and the nucleus has changed its 
position therein ; that is, on the 29th August, the nucleus 
was like a minute star near the centre of the nebulous 
enveloi)e ; on the 2nd September it appeared in the n. f. 
quarter, and latterly it has been in the s. f. 

How remarkable that the month of August this year 
should rattle Halley's name throughout the globe, hi 
identity with an astonishing scientific triumph, and that 
in the selfsame month the letters of Flamsteed should 
have appeared ! How I wish some one would give us a 
life of Newton, with all the interesting documents that 
exist of his labom's ! Till such appears, Flamsteed's 
statements, though bearing strong internal evidence of 
truth, are ex-partc, and it is evident his anxiety made 
him prone to impute motives which he could not prove. 
The book is painfully interesting, but except ia all that 
relates to the personal character of Flamsteed, I could 
almost have wished the documents had been destroyed. 
People of judgment well know that men without faults 
are monsters, but vulgar minds delight ui seemg the 
standard of human excellence lowered. 

Dear Madam, 

Yours faithfully, 


p 2 


Mary Somerville. 

We were deprived of the society of Sir John and 
Lady Herschel for four years, because Sir John took 
his telescope and other instruments to the Cape of 
Good Hope, where he went, accompanied by his 
family, for the purpose of observing the celestial 
phenomena of the southern hemisphere. There are 
more than 6,000 double stars in the northern hemis- 
phere, in a large proportion of which the angle of 
position and distance between the two stars have 
been measured, and Sir John determined, in the 
same manner, 1081 in the southern hemisphere, and 
I believe many additions have been made to them 
since that time. In many of these one star revolves 
rapidly round the other. The elliptical orbits and 
periodical times of sixteen or seventeen of these 
stellar systems have been determined. In Gamma 
Virginis the two stars are nearly of the same magni- 
tude, and were so far apart in the middle of the 
last century that they were considered to be quite 
independent of each other. Since then they have 
been gradually approaching one another, till, in 
March, 1836, I had a letter from Admiral Smyth, 
informing me that he had seen one of the stars 
eclipse the other, from his observatory at Bedford. 

Ocmltation of a Star. 


Crescent, Bedford, March 2Gth, 1836. 

My deak Madam, 

Knowing the great interest you take in sidereal 
astronomy, of which so little is yet Imown, I trust it will 
not he an intrusion to teR you of a new, extraordinary, 
and very unexpected fact, in the complete occultation of 
one " fixed" star by another, under circumstances which 
admit of no possible doubt or equivocation. 

You are aware that I have been measming the position 
and distance of the two stars and Virginis, which 
are both nearly of similar magnitudes, and also, that they 
have approximated to each other very rapidly. They were 
very close last year, and I expected to find they had 
crossed each other at this apparition, but to my surprise 
I find they have become a fair round disc, which my 
highest powers will not elongate— in fact, a single star ! 
I shall watch with no little interest for the reappearance 
of the second y. 

My dear madam. 

Your truly obliged servant, 

W. H. Smyth. 

This eclipse was also seen by Sir Jolin Herscliel at 
the Cape of Good Hope, as well as by many astrono- 
mers in Europe provided with instruments of great 


Mary Somerville. 

optical power. In 1782 Sii" ^Villiam Herschel saw 
one of the stars of Zeta Herculis eclipse the 

In the " Connexion of the Physical Sciences " I 
have given an al^ridged account of Sir John 
Herschel's most remarkable discoveries in the 
southern hemisphere ; but I may mention here that 
he determined the position and made accurate draw- 
ings of all the nebulae that were distinctly visible in 
his 20 ft. telescope. The work he published will be 
a standard for ascertaining the changes that may 
take place in these mysterious objects for ages to 
come. Sir William Herschel had determined the 
places of 2,500 nebulae in the northern hemisphere : 
they were examined by his son, and drawings made 
of some of the most remarkable, but when these 
nebulae were viewed through Lord Eosse's telescope, 
they presented a very different appearance, showing 
that the apparent form of the nebulae depends upon 
the space-penetrating power of the telescope, a cir- 
cumstance of vital importance in observing the 
changes which time may produce on these wonder- 
ful objects. 

[Long afterwards Lord Eosse wrote in reply to some 
questions which my mother had addressed to him on 
this subject : — 

Tlie Earl of Rosse. 



Castle, Paesonstown, Jivne \2tli, 1844. 

Dear Mrs. Someeville, 

I have very reluctantly postponed so long reply- 
ing to yoiu" inquiries respecting the telescope, but there 
were some points upon which I was anxious to be 
enabled to speak more precisely. The instrument we 
are now using is 3 feet aperture, and 27 feet focus, 
and in the greater proportion of the nebulae which have 
been observed with it some new details have been 
brought out. Perhaps the most interesting general 
result is that, as far as we have gone, increasing optical 
power has enlarged the hst of clusters, by diminishing 
that of the nebulte property so-called. Such has always 
been the case since the nebulae have been observed with 
telescopes, and although it would be unsafe to draw the 
inference, it is impossible not to feel some expectation 
that with sufficient optical power the nebulee would all 
be reduced into clusters. Perhaps the two of the most 
remarkable of the resolved nebulae are Fig. 26 and 
Fig. 55. In several of the planetarj'- nebulae we have 
discovered a star or bright point in the centre, and a 
filamentous edge, which is just the appearance which a 
cluster with a higiily condensed centre would present in 
a small instrument. For instance. Figs. 47 and 32. 
We have also found that many of the nebulge have not 
a sj^mmetrical form, as they appear to have in inferior 
instruments ; for instance. Fig. 81 is a cluster with long 
resolvable filaments from its southern extremity, and 
Fig.. 85 is an oblong cluster with a bright centre. 
Fig. 45 is an annular nebula, like Herschel's drawing 


Mary Somerville. 

of the annular nebula in Lyi-a. I have sent drawings 
of a few of these objects to the Eoyal Society, they 
were forwarded a few days ago. We have upon the 
whole as j'-et observed but little with the telescope of 
3 feet ai^erture. You recollect Herschel said that it 
was a good observing year, in which there were 100 
hours fit for observing, and of the average of oui' hours 
I have not emploj^ed above 30. We have been for the 
last two years engaged in constructing a telescope of 
6 feet aperture and 52 feet focus, and it would have 
been impossible to have bestowed the necessary atten- 
tion upon it had we made a business of observing. 
That instrument is nearly finished, and I hope it will 
effect something for astronomy. The unequal refrac- 
tion of the atmosphere will limit its powers, but how 

far remains to be ascertained Lady Rosse joins 

me in very kind remembrances and believe me to be, 
Dear Mrs. Somerville, 

Yours very truly and ever, 


[Sir John Herschel wrote to my father from the 
Cape : — 

Feldhausen, near Wynbebg, C.G.H., July llth, 1S30. 

My dear Somerville, 

Since our arrival here, I have, I laiow in many 
instances, maintained or established the character of a 
bad correspondent ; and really it is not an iuconvenient 
character to have established. Only, in your case, I 

Herschel at the Cape. 


should be very sony to appear in that, or any other 
negligent or naughty Hght ; hut you, I know, will allow 
for the circumstances which have occasioned my silence. 
Meanwhile, I am not sorry that the execution of an 
intention I had more than once formed should have been 
deferred, till we read in the papers of the well-judged and 
highly creditable notice (creditable I mean to the govern- 
ment 237-0 tempore) which His Majesty has been pleased to 
take of Mrs. Somerville's elaborate works. Although 
the Royal notice is not quite so swift as the Ughtning in 
the selection of its objects, it agrees with it in this, that 
it is attracted by the loftiest ; and though what she has 
performed may seem so natural and easy to herself, that 
she may blush to find it fame ; all the rest of the world 
will agree with me in rejoicing that merit of that land is 
felt and recognised at length in the high places of the 
earth. This, and the honourable mention of Airy by 
men of both parties in the House of Commons about the 
same time, are things that seem to mark the progress of 
the age we live in ; and I give Peel credit for his tact in 
perceiving this mode of making a favourable impression 
on the public mind. 

We are all going on very comfortablj^ and continue to 
hke the Cape as a place of (temporary) residence as much 
or more than at first. The climate is so very delicious. 
..... The stars are most propitious, and, astronomi- 
cally speaking, I can now declare the climate to be most 
excellent. Night after night, for weeks and months, 
with hardly an interruption, of perfect astronomical 
weather, discs of stars reduced almost to points, and 
tranquilly gliding across the field of your telescope. It 
is really a treat, such as occurs once or perhaps twice a 
year in England — hardly more. I had almost forgotten 

218 , Mary Somerville. 

that by a recent vote of the Asti'onomical Society I can 
now clahn Mrs. Somerville as a colleague. Pray make 
my compliments to her in that capacity, and tell her 
that I hope to meet her there at some future session. . . . 
Yours very faithfully, 

H. W. Heeschel. 

To William Somee^ille, Esq. 

Spectrum analysis has shown that there is 
a vast quantity of self-luminous gaseous matter 
in space, incapable of being reduced into stars, 
liowever powerful the telescope through wHch 
it is observed. Hence the old opinion once more 
prevails, that this is the matter of which the sun 
and stellar systems have been formed, and that 
other stellar systems are being formed by slow, con- 
tinuous condensation. The principal constituents 
of tbis matter are, the terrestrial gases, hydrogen, 
and nitrogen. The yellow stars, like the sun, con- 
tain terrestrial matter. The nebulous and stellar 
constituents were chiefly discovered by Dr. Huggins. 

Somerville and I were always made welcome by Sir 
James South, and at Camden Hill I learnt the method 
of observing, and sometimes made observations my- 
self on the double stars and binary systems, which, 
worthless as they were, enabled me to describe better 
what others had done. One forenoon Somerville and 
I went to pay a visit to Lady South. Sir James, who 

Scientific Society. 


was present, said, " Come to the observatory, and 
measure the distance of Mercury from the sun ; for 
they are in close approximation, and I wish to see 
what kind of observation you will make.'"' It was 
erroneous, as might have been expected ; but when I 
took the mean of several observations, it differed but 
little from that which Sir James South had made ; 
and here I learnt practically the importance of taking 
the mean of approximate quantities. 

Dr. Wollaston, Dr. Young, and the Katers died 
before I became an author ; Lord Brougham was 
one of the last of my scientific contemporaries, all 
the rest were younger than myself, and with this 
younger set, as with their predecessors, we had 
most agreeable and constant intercourse. Although 
we lived so much in scientific society we had all 
along been on the most friendly and intimate terms 
with the literary society of the day, such as Hallam, 
Milman, Moore, Malthus, &c., &c. The highly in- 
tellectual conversation of these was enlivened by the 
brilliant wit of my early friend, Sydney Smith, who 
was loved and admired by every one. His daughter 
married our friend Sir Henry Holland, the distin- 
guished physician, well known for his eminent 
literary and scientific acquirements as well as for his 
refined taste. 


Mary Somerville. 

No house in London was more hospitable and 
agreeable than that of the late Mr. John Murray, in 
Albemarle Street. His dinner parties were brilliant, 
with all the poets and literary characters of the day, 
and Mr. Murray himself was gentlemanly, full of 
information, and kept up the conversation with 
spirit. He generously published the "Mechanism 
of the Heavens" at his own risk, which, from its 
analytical character, could only be read by mathe- 

Besides those I have mentioned we had a numer- 
ous acquaintance who were neither learned nor 
scientific ; and at concerts at some of their houses I 
enjoyed much hearing the great artists of the day, 
such as Pasta, Malibran, Grisi, Eubini, &c., &c. 
We knew Lucien Buonaparte, who gave me a copy 
of his poems, which were a failm^e. 

I had become acquainted with Madame de 
Montalembert, who was an Englishwoman, and 
was mother of the celebrated Comte ; she was 
very eccentric, and at that time was an Ultra- 
Protestant. One day she came to ask me to go 
and drive in the Park with her, and afterwards 
dine at her house, saying, "We shall aU be in 
high dresses." So I accepted, and on entering the 
drawing-room, found a bishop and several clerg)^- 
men. Lady Olivia Sparrow, and some other ladies. 

Exeter Hall. 


all in high black satin dresses and white lace caps, 
precisely the dress I wore, and I thought it a 
curious coincidence. The party was lively enough, 
and agreeable, but the conversation was in a style I 
had never heard before — in fact, it affected the 
phraseology of the Bible. We all went after dinner 
to a sort of meeting at Exeter Hall, I quite forget 
for what purpose, but our party was on a kind of 
raised platform. I mentioned this to a friend after- 
wards, and the curious circumstance of our all being- 
dressed alike. "Do you not know," she said, "that 
dress is assumed as a distinctive mark of the Evan- 
gelical party ! So you were a wolf in sheep's 
clothing ! " 

I had been acquainted with the Miss Benys at 
Raith, when visiting their cousins, Mr. and Mrs. 
Ferguson. Mary, the eldest, was a handsome, 
accomplished woman, who from her youth had 
lived in the most distinguished society, both at 
home and abroad. She published a " Comparative 
View of Social Life in France and England," which 
was well received by the public. She was a Latin 
scholar, spoke and wrote French fluently, yet with 
all these advantages, the consciousness that she 
might have done something better, had female 
education been less frivolous, gave her a character- 
istic melancholy which lasted through life. She did 


Mary Somerville. 

not talk mucli herself, but slie had the tact to lead 
conversation. She and her sister received every 
evening a select society in their small house in 
Curzon Street. Besides any distinguished foreigners 
who happened to be in London, among their 
habitual guests were my friend, Lady Charlotte 
Lindsay, always witty and agreeable, the brilliant 
and beautiful Sheridans, Lady Theresa Lister, after- 
wards Lady Theresa Lewis, who edited Miss Berry's 
"Memoirs," Lord Lansdowne, and many others. Lady 
Davy came occasionally, and the Miss Fanshaws, 
who were highly accomplished, and good artists, 
besides Miss Catherine Fanshaw wrote clever vers 
de societe, such as a charade on the letter H, and, if 
I am not mistaken, " The Butterfly's Ball," &c. I 
visited these ladies, but their manners were so cold 
and formal that, though I admired their talents, I 
never became intimate with them. On the con- 
trary, like everyone else, I loved Mary Berry, she 
was so warm-hearted and kind. When London 
began to fill, and the season was at its height, the 
Miss Berrys used to retire to a pretty villa at 
Twickenham, where they received their friends to 
luncheon, and strawberries and cream, and very 
delightful these visits were in fine spring weather. 
I recollect once, after dining there, to have been 
foruntate enough to give a place in my carriage to 

Rogers' Epigram. 


Lord Macaulcay, and those wlio remember his cliarm- 
ing and brilliant conversation will miderstand how 
short the drive to London appeared. 

We sometimes went to see Miss Lydia White, 
who received every evening ; she was clever, witty, 
and very free in her conversation. On one occasion 
the party consisted, besides ourselves, of the Misses 
Berry, Lady Davy ; the three poets, Eogers, William 
Sj)encer, and Campbell; Sir James Macintosh, and 
Lord Dudley. Eogers, who was a bitter satirist 
and hated Lord Dudley, had written the following 
epigram : — 

Ward has no heart, 'tis said ; but I deny it. 
He has a heart, and gets his speeches by it. 

I had never heard of this epigram, and on coming 
away Lord Dudley said, "You are going home 
to sleep and I to work." I answered, "Oh! you 
are going to prepare your speech for to-morrow." 
My appropriate remark raised an universal laugh. 
Mr. Bowditch, of Boston, U. S., who died in 1838, 
left among other works a " Commentary on La Place's 
Mecanique Celeste." in four volumes. While busily 
occupied in bringing out an edition of the " Physical 
Sciences," I received a letter from his son, Mr. H. 
Bowditch, requesting me to write an elaborate review 
of that work, which would be published in Boston 


Mary Somerville. 

along with the biograjDhy of his father, written by 
Mr. Young, who sent me a copy of it. Though 
highly sensible of the honour, I declined to under- 
take so formidable a work, fearing that I should not 
do justice to the memory of so great a man. 

I have always been in communication with some 
of the most distinguished men of the United States. 
Washington Irving frequently came to see me when 
he was in London ; he was as agreeable in conversa- 
tion as he was distinguished as an author. No one 
could be more amiable than Admn-al Wilkes, of the 
U. S. navy : he had all the frankness of a sailor. 
We saw a good deal of him when he was in London, 
and I had a long letter from him, giving me an ac- 
count of his fleet, his plan for circumnavigation, &c. &c. 
I never had the good fortune to become personally 
acquainted with Captain Maury, of the U. S. navy, 
author of that fascinating book, the "Physical 
Geography of the Sea," but I am. indebted to him 
for a copy of that work, and of his valuable charts. 
Mr. Dana, who is an honour to his country, sent me 
copies of his works, to which I have had occasion 
frequently to refer as acknowledged authority on 
many branches of natural history. I should be un- 
grateful if I did not acknowledge the kindness 
I received from the SiUiman family, who informed 
me of any scientific discovery in the United States, 

American Friends. 


and sent me a copy of their Journal when it con- 
tained anything which might interest me. I was 
elected an honorary member of the Geographical 
and Statistical Society of New York, U. S. on the 
15th May, 1857, and on the 15th October, 1869, 
I was elected a member of the American Philo- 
soj^hical Society at Philadelphia, for Promoting 
Useful Knowledge. I shall ever be most grateful 
for these honours. 

While living in Florence, many years after, an 
American friend invited me to an evening party to 
meet an American authoress who wished particu- 
larly to make my acquaintance. I accordingly 
went there on the evening in question, and my 
friends, after receiving me with their accustomed 
cordiality, presented me to the lady, and placed 
me beside her to give me an opportunity of con- 
versing w^ith her. I addressed her several times, 
and made various attempts to enter into con- 
versation, but only received very dry answers in 
reply. At last she fairly turned her back upon 
me, and became engrossed with a lady who sat 
on her other side, upon which I got up and left 
her and never saw her again. A very different 
person in every respect was present that even- 
ing, as much distinguished by her high mental 
qualities and poetical genius as by her modesty and 



Mary Somerville. 

simplicity. I allude to our greatest British poetess, 
Mrs. Browning, wlio at that time resided in Florence, 
except when the delicacy of her health obliged her 
to go to Rome. I think there is no other instance 
of husband and wife both poets, and both distin- 
guished in their different lines. I can imagine no 
happier or more fascinating life than theirs ; two 
kindred spirits united in the highest and noblest 
asjpirations. Unfortunately her life was a short 
one ; in the full bloom of her intellect her frail 
health gave way, and she died leaving a noble 
record of genius to future ages, and a sweet memory 
to those who were her contemporaries. The Flo- 
rentines, who, like all Italians, greatly apiDreciate 
genius, whether native or foreign, have placed a 
commemorative tablet on Casa Guidi, the house 
Mrs. Browning inhabited. 

I was extremely delighted last spring in being- 
honoured by a visit from Longfellow, that most 
genial poet. It is not always the case that the 
general appearance of a distinguished person answers 
' to one's ideal of what he ought to be — in this respect 
Longfellow far surpasses expectation. I was as 
much charmed with his winning manner and con- 
versation as by his calm, grand features and the ex- 
pression of his intellectual countenance. 

The Barons Fairfax, as I mentioned already, had 


long been members of the Eepiiblic of the United 
States, and Washmgton's mother belonged to this 
family. During the war of Independence, while my 
father, then Lieutenant Fairfax, was on board a 
man-of-war on the American station, he received a 
letter from General Washington claiming him as a 
relation, and inviting him to pay him a visit, saying, 
he did not think that war should interfere with the 
courtesies of private life. Party spirit ran so high 
that time that my father was reprimanded for 
being in correspondence with the enemy. I men- 
tioned to my friend, the Eev. Dr. Tuckerman, of the 
United States, how much I regretted that so pre- 
cious a letter had been lost, and he most kindly 
•on going home sent me an autograph letter of 
General Washington. 


Boston, August 2St7i, 1834. 

Mt deab Madam, 

I have very great pleasui-e in sending to you an 
autograph letter of youi- and our glorious Washington. 
I obtained it from Mr. Sparks, who had the g"ratificati(Sii 
of seeing you when he was in England, and who told me 
when I appHed to liim for it, that there is no one in the 
world to whom he would be so glad to give it. It is 
beyond compaiison the best and almost the only re- 
maining one at his disposal among the "Washington" 

Q 2 


Mary Somerville. 

I am again in my family and in tlie field of my 

But very dear to me are my associations with scenes 
and friends in England ; and most glad should I be if I 
could renew that intercourse with yom'self, and with the 
intellect and vii'tue around you, to which I have been 
indebted for great happiness, and which, I hope, has 
done something to qualify me for a more efficient service. 
Will von please to present my very sincere respects to 
your husband, and to recall me to the kind remembrance 
of 3'^om' children. With the liighest respect and regard, 
allow me to call myself, 

Your friend, 

Joseph Tuckeeman. 

I ttink it must have been on returning from the 
American station, or may be later in the career of 
my father's life, that a circumstance occurred which 
distressed him exceedingly. Highway robberies were 
common on all the roads in the vicinity of London, 
but no violence was offered. My father was travel- 
ling alone over Blackheath when the postilion was 
ordered to stop, a pistol presented at my father, and 
his purse demanded. My father at once recognised 
the voice as that of a shipmate, and exclaimed, 
" Good God ! I know that voice ! can it be 

young ? I am dreadfully shocked ; I have 

a hundi-ed pounds which shall be yours — come into 

Robbers on Blackhcath. 


the carriage, and let me take you to London, where 
you will be safe." . . " No, no," the young man 
said, " I have associates whom I cannot leave — it 
is too late." ... It was too late ; he was arrested 
eventually and suffered. Years afterwards when 
by some accident my father mentioned this event, 
he was deeply affected, and never would tell the 
name of the young man who had been his mess- 



[My motliei- was akeacly meditating -wi'itiiig a book upon 
Physical Geography, and had begun to collect materials 
for it, when my father's long and dangerous illness 
obliged her to laj'' it aside for a time. My father was 
ordered to a warmer clunate for the winter, and as soon 
as he Avas able to travel we proceeded to Rome. We 
were hardly settled when my mother, with her usual 
energy, set to work diligently, and began this book, wliich 
was^not published for some time later, as it required much 
thought and research. She never allowed anything to 
-interfere with her morning's work ; after that was over 
she was delighted to join in any plan wliich had been 
formed for the afternoon's amusement, and enjoj^ed her- 
self thoroughly, whether in visiting antiquities and 
galleries, excursions in the neiglibom-hood, or else going 
with a friend to paint on the Campagna. My mother was 
extremely fond of Eome, and often said no j)lace had 
ever suited her so well. Independently of the picturesque 
beauty of the i^lace, which, to such a lover of nature, 
was sufficient in itself, there was a very pleasant society 

Jolm Gibson at Rome. 


during many seasons we spent there. The visitors were 
far less numerous than they are now, hut on that very 
account there was more sociability and intimacy, and 
scarcely an evening passed without otir meeting. The 
artists -residing at Kome, too, were a most delightful 
addition to society. Some of them became our very dear 
friends. My mother remai'ks : — 

We took lodgings at Eome, and as soon as we 
were settled I resumed my work and wrote every 
morning till two o'clock, then went to some gallery, 
walked on the Pincio, dined at six, and in the 
evening either went out or received visits at home — 
the pleasantest way of seeing friends, as it does 
not interfere with one's occupations. 

We once joined a party that was arranged to see 
the statues in the Vatican by torchlight, at which 
Lord Macaulay astonished us by his correct know- 
ledge and learning as we passed through the gaUery 
of inscriptions. To me this evening was memorable ; 
on this occasion I jSrst met with* John Gibson, the 
sculptor, who afterwards became a dear and valued 
friend. He must have been a pupil of Canova's 
or Thorwald sen's Avhen Somerville and I were first 
at Kome. Now his fame was as great as that of 
either of his predecessors. 


Mary Somerville. 

[In spring we went to Naples for a few weeks, and 
returned to Rome by the San Germano road, now so 
familiar to travellers, but then hardly ever fi-equented, as 
it was extremely unsafe on account of the brigands. We 
met with no adventures, although we often reached our 
night quarters long after sunset, for my mother sketched 
a great deal on the road. We travelled by vetturino and 
continued this delightful journey to Como. My mother 
was a j)erfect travelling companion, always cheerful and 
contented and interested in all she saw. I leave her to 
tell of our pleasant residence at Bellaggio in her own 
words : — 

AVe remained only a short time at Florence, and 
then went for a month to Bellaggio, on the Lake of 
Como, at that time the most lonely village imaginable. 
We had neither letters, newspapers, nor any books, 
except the Bible, yet we liked it exceedingly. I 
did nothing but paint in the mornings, and Somer- 
ville sat by me. My daughters wandered about, 
and in the evening we went in a boat on the lake.' 
Sometimes we made longer excursions. One day we 
went early to Menaggio, at the upper end of the 
lake. The day had been beautiful, but while at 
dinner we were startled by a loud peal of thunder. 
The boatmen desired us to embark without delay, 
as a storm was rising behind the mountains ; 
it soon blew a gale, and the lake was a sheet 



'of foam ; we took shelter for a while at some 
place on the coast and set out again, thinking 
the storm had blown over, but it was soon worse 
than ever. We were in no small danger for two 
hours. The boatmen, terrified, threw themselves 
on their knees in prayer to the Madonna. Somer- 
ville seized the helm and lowered the sail and 
ordered them to rise, saying, the Madonna would 
help them if they helped themselves, and at last 
they retm^ned to their duty. For a long time we 
remained perfectly silent, when one of our daugh- 
ters said, " I have been thinking what a paragraph 
it will be in the newspapers, ' Drowned, during a 
sudden squall on the lake of Como, an English 
family named Somerville, father, mother and two 
dauo;hters.' " The silence thus broken made us 
laugh, though our situation was serious enough, for 
when we landed the shore was crowded with people 
Avho had fully expected to see the boat go down. 
Twice after this we were overtaken by these squalls, 
which are very dangerous. I shall never forget the 
magnificence of the lightning and the grandeur of 
the thunder, which was echoed by the mountains 
during the storms on the Lake of Como. 

We saw the fishermen spear the fish by torch- 
light, as they did on the Tweed. The fish were 
plenty and the water so clear that they were seen 


Mary Somerville. 

at a great depth. There are very large red-fleshed 
trout in the lake, and a small very delicious fish 
called agoni, caught in multitudes by fine silk 
nets, to which bells are attached on floats, that 
kee]^ up a constant tinkling to let the fishermen 
know where to find their nets when floated away 
by the wind. 

[We now crossed the Alps, hy the St. Gotharcl, to Basle 
and Baden Baden, Avhere we passed the summer, intend- 
ing to retm-n to England in autumn, but as soon as the 
rains began my father had so serious a return of his ill- 
ness that my mother was much alarmed. When he was 
well enough to travel, we once more crossed the Alps, 
and reached Florence, where we remained for the winter, 
mother resumed her work there. 

Through the kindness of the Grand Duke, I was- 
allowed to have books at home from his private 
library in the Pitti Palace, a favour only granted 
to the four Directors. This gave me courage to col- 
lect materials for my long neglected Physical Geo- 
graphy, still in embryo. As I took an interest in 
every branch of science I became acquainted with 
Professor Amici, whose microscopes were umivalled 
at that time, and as he had made many remarkable 
microscopic discoveries in natural history, he took 
us to the Museum to see them magnified and 

TJie Pitti Palace. 235 

modelled in wax. I liad the honour of being elected 
a member of the Academy of Natural Science at 

There were many agreeable people at Florence 
tliat winter and a good deal of gaiety. The Mar- 
chese Antinori presented Somerville and me to 
the Grand Duke, who had expressed a wish to 
Imow me. He received us very graciously, and 
conversed with us for more than an hour on 
general subjects. He afterwards wrote me a polite 
letter, accompanied by a work on the drainage 
of the Maremma, and gave directions about our 
being invited to a scientific meeting which was 
to be held at Pisa. We were presented to the 
Grand Duchess, who was very civil. We spent 
the summer at Siena, and had a cheerful any 
apartment with a fine view of the hills of Santa 
Flora, and with very pretty arabesques in fresco on 
the walls of all the rooms, some so very artistic 
that I made sketches of them. In these old cities 
many of the palaces and houses are decorated with 
that artistic taste which formerly prevailed to such 
an extent in Italy, and which has now yielded, 
here as elsewhere, to common-place modern furniture. 
^ * . % * * 

[While we were at Siena, my mother received the fol- 
lowing letter from Lord Brougham, who was a frequent 


Mary Someiville. 

correspondent of hers, but whose letters are generally too 
exclusively mathematical for the general reader. My 
mother had described the curious horse-races which are 
held at Siena every thi-ee years, and other mediaeval cus- 
toms still prevalent. 


Cole Hill, Kent, Sept. 2Wi, 18iO. 

My dear Mrs. SoMERvn.LE, 

I am much obliged to you for your kind letter 
which let me know of your movements. I had not heard 

of them since I saw the ' Fergusons We have 

been here since parliament rose, as I am not yet at all 
equal to going to Brougham. My health is now quite 
restored ; but I shall not soon — nor in all probability 
ever — recover the losses I have been afflicted with. I 
passed the greater part of last winter in Provence, 
expectmg some relief from change of scene and from 
the fine climate ; but I came back fully worse than when 
I went. In fact, I did wrong in struggling at first, which 
I did to be able to meet parliament in January last. If 
I had jdelded at once, I would have been better. I hope 
and trust they sent you a book I published two years 
ago ; I mean the " Dissertations," of which one is on the 
" Principia," and desigTied to try how far it may be 
taught to persons having but a very moderate stock of 
mathematics ; also, if possible, to keep alive the true 
taste (as I reckon it) in mathematics, which modern 
analysis has a little broken in upon. Assuming you to 
have got the book, I must mention that there lu-e some 

intolerable errors of the press left, such as 

Excuse my troubling you with these errata, and mipute it 

BroiLoJiam s Dissertations. 237 

to wish that jovl should not suppose me to have 
Avi-itten the nonsense which these pages seem to prove. 
B}' the way, it is a curious proof of university prejudice, 
that though the Camhridge men admit my analysis of the 
" Principia " to he unexceptionable, and to he well 
calculated for teaching the work, yet, not being by a 
Cambridge man, it cannot be used ! They are far more 
liberal at Paris, where they only are waiting for my 
analysis of the second book ; but I put off finisliing it, 
as I do still more my account of the " Mecanique 
Celeste." The latter I have almost abandoned in 
despair after neaidy finishing it ; I find so much that 
cannot be explained elementarily, or anything near it. 
So that my account to be complete would be nearlj' as 
hard reading as youi's, and not 1000th part as good .... 
I greatly envy you Siena ; I never was there above a day, 
and always desh'ed to stay longer. The language is, as 
you saj^ a real charm; but I was not aware of the 
preservation in which you describe the older mamiers to 
be. I fear I shall not be able to visit Provence, as I 

should have wished this winter but my plans 

are not quite fixed. The judicial business in Parliament 
and the Privy Council will also make my going abroad 
after January difficult. I don't write you any news, nor 
is there any but what jo\x see in the papers. The Tory 
restoration approaches very steadily, tho' not very 
rapidly ; and I only hope that the Whigs, having con- 
trived to destroy the Liberal party in the country — I fear 
past all hope of recovery — may not have a war abroad 

also to mourn for 

Believe me, 

Yours ever, 

H. Brougham. 


Mary Somerville. 

On going to Eome I reqiured a good many Looks 
for continuing my work on " Physical Geography," 
and had got " Transactions of the Geographical 
Society " and other works sent from London . 
The Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone who was then at 
Eome, was an old acquaintance of ours. He was 
one of the most amiable men I ever met with, 
and quite won my heart one day at table when 
they were talking of the number of singing- 
birds that were eaten in Italy — nightingales, gold- 
finches, and robins — he called out, " What ! robins ! 
our household birds ! I would as soon eat a 
child ! " Pie was so kind as to write to the Direc- 
tors of the East India Company requesting that I 
might have the use of the library and papers that 
were in the India House. This was readily granted 
me ; and I had a letter in consequence from Mr. 
Wilson, the Orientalist, giving me a list of the works 
they had on the geography of Eastern Asia and the; 
most recent travels in the Himalaya, Thibet, and 
China, with much useful information fi'om himself. I 
was indebted to Sir Henry Pottinger, then at Eome, 
for information relating to Scinde, for he had been 
for some years British Envoy at Beloochistan. 
Thus provided, I went on with my work. We hved 
several winters in an apartment on the second floor 
of Palazzo Lepri, Via dei Condotti, Avhere we passed 

A Flood in Rome. 


many liappy days. When we first lived in Via 
Condotti, the waste-pipes to carry oflF the rain-water 
from the roofs projected far into the street, and when 
there was a violent thunderstorm, one might have 
thought a waterspout had broken over Eome, the 
water pom-ed in such cascades from the houses on 
each side of the street. On one occasion the rain 
continued in torrents for thirty-six hours, and the 
Tiber came down in heavy flood, inundating the 
Ghetto and all the low parts of the city ; the water 
was six feet deep in the Pantheon. The people 
were driven out of their houses in the middle of 
the night and took refuge in the churches, and 
boats plied in the streets supplying the inhabitants 
with food, which they hauled up in baskets let down 
from the windows. The Campagna for miles was 
Tinder water ; it covered the Ponte Molle so that 
the courier could not pass ; and seen from the 
Pincio it looked like an extensive lake. Much 
anxiety was felt for the people who lived in the 
farm houses now smTOunded with water. Boats 
were sent to rescue them, and few lives were lost ; 
but many animals perished. The flood did not 
subside till after three days, when it left every- 
thing covered with yellow mud; the loss of pro- 
perty was very great, and there was much misery 
for a long time. 


Mary Somerville. 

Our house was in a very central position, and wlien 
not engaged I gladly received anyone who liked to- 
come to us in the evening, and we had a most agi-ee- 
able society, foreign and English, for we were not 
looked upon as strangers, and the English society 
was much better during the years we spent in Eome 
than it was afterwards. 

I had an annual visit of an hour from the astro- 
nomer Padre Vico, and Padre Pianciani, Professor of 
Chemistry in the CoUegio Eomano. I was invited 
to see the Observatory ; but as I had seen those of 
Greenwich and Paris, I did not think it worth 
while accepting the invitation, especially as it re- 
quired an order from the Pope. I could easily 
have obtained leave, for we were presented to 
Gregory XVI. by the President of the Scotch 
Catholic College. The Pope received me with 
marked distinction ; notwithstanding I was dis- 
gusted to see the President prostrate on the 
floor, kissing the Pope's foot as if he had been 
divine. I think it was about this time that I 
was elected an honorary associate of the Accademia 

I had very great delight in the Campagna of 
Rome; the fine range of Apennines bounding the 
plain, over which the fleeting shadows of the passing 
clouds fell, ever changing and always beautiful, 

Drove of Campag7ia Cattle. 241 

■wlietlier viewed in the early morning, or in the 
glory of the setting sun, I was never tired of ad- 
miring ; and whenever I drove out, preferred a 
country drive to the more fashionable Villa Bor- 
ghese. One day Somerville and I and our daughters 
went to drive towards the Tavolata, on the road to 
Albano. We got out of the carriage, and went into 
a field, tempted by the wild flowers. On one side of 
this field ran the aqueduct, on the other a deep and 
wide ditch full of water. I had gone towards the 
aqueduct, leaving the others in the field. All at 
once we heard a loud shoutino; when an enormous 
drove of the beautiful Campagna grey cattle with 
their wide-spreading horns came rushing wildly 
between us with their heads down and their tails 
erect, driven by men with long spears mounted on 
little spirited horses at full gallop. It was so sudden 
and so rapid, that only after it was over did we per- 
ceive the danger we had run. As there was no 
possible escape, there was nothing for it but standing 
still, which Somerville and my girls had presence of 
mind to do, and the drove dividing, rushed like a 
whirlwind to the right and left of them. The 
danger was not so much of being gored as of 
being run over by the excited and terrified animals, 
and round the waUs of Eome places of refuge are 
provided for those who may be passing when the 



Mary Somerville. 

cattle are driven. Near where this occurred there is 
a house with the inscription "Casa Dei Spiriti" ; but 
I do not think the Italians believe in either ghosts 
or witches ; their chief superstition seems to be the 
" Jettatura," or evil eye, which they have inherited 
from the early Eomans, and, I believe, Etruscans. 
They consider it a bad omen to meet a monk or 
priest on first going out in the morning. My 
daughters were engaged to ride with a large party, 
and the meet was at our house. A Roman, who 
happened to go out first, saw a friar, and rushed in 
again laughing, and waited till he was out of sight. 
Soon after they set ofi", this gentleman was thrown 
from his horse and ducked in a pool; so the 
" Jettatura " was fulfilled. But my daughters 
thought his bad seat on horseback enough to 
account for his fall without the Evil Eye. 





In spring we went to Albano, and lived in a villa^ 
high np on the hiJl in a beautiful situation not 
far from the lake. The view was most extensive, 
commanding the whole of the Campagna as far as 
Terracina, &c. In this wide expanse we could see the 
thunderclouds forming and rising gradually over the 
sky before the storm, and I used to watch the 
vapour condensing into a cloud as it rose into the 
cool air. I never witnessed anything so violent as 
the storms we had about the equinox, when the 
weather broke up. Our house being high above the; 
plain became enveloped in vapour till, at 3 p.m., 
we could scarcely see the olives which grew below 
our windows, and crash followed crash with no 
interval between the lightning and the thunder, so 
that we felt sure many places must have been struck ; 
and we were not mistaken — trees, houses, and even 

B 2 


Mary Somerville. 

cattle had been struck close to us. Somerville went 
to Florence to attend a scientific meeting, and wrote 
to us that the lightning there had stripped the gold 
leaf off the conductors on the powder magazine ; a 
proof of their utility. 

The sunsets were glorious, and I, fascinated by 
the gorgeous colouring, attempted to paint what 
Turner alone could have done justice to. I made 
studies, too, which were signal failures, of the noble 
ilex trees bordering the lake of Albano. Thus 
I Avasted a great deal of time, I can hardly say 
in vain, from the pleasure I had in the lovely 
scenery. Somerville sat often by me with his book, 
while I painted from nature, or amused himself 
examining the geological structure of the country. 
Our life was a solitary one, except for the occasional 
visit from some friends who were at Frascati ; but 
we never found it dull ; besides, we made many 
expeditions on mules or donkeys to places in the 
neighbourhood. I was very much delighted with 
the flora on the Campagna and the Alban hills, 
which in spring and early summer are a perfect 
garden of flowers. Many plants we cultivate in 
England here grow wild in profusion, such as 
cyclamens, gum-cistus, both white and i^urple, many 
rare and beautiful orchidea, the large flowering 
Spanish broom, perfuming the air all around, the 



tall, white-blossomed Mediterranean heath, and the 
myrtle. These and many others my girls used to 
bring in from their early morning walks. The 
flowers only lasted till the end of Jmie, when the 
heat began, and the whole country became brown and 
parched ; but scarcely had the autumnal rains com- 
menced, when, like magic, the whole country broke 
out once more into verdure, and myriads of cycla- 
mens covered the ground. Nio;htino;ales abounded 
in the woods, singing both by night and by day ; 
and one bright moonlight night my daughters, who 
slept with their window open, were startled from 
their sleep by the hooting of one of those beautiful 
birds, the great-eared owl — "le grand due" of 
Buffon — which had settled on the railing of their 
balcony. We constantly came across snakes, gene- 
rally harmless ones ; but there were a good many 
vipers, and once, when Somerville and my daughters, 
with Mr. Cromek, the artist, had gone from Gen- 
zano to Nettuno for a couple of days, a small asp 
which was crawling among the bent-grass on the 
sea-shore, darted at one of the girls, who had irri- 
tated it by touching it with her parasol. By the 
natives they are much dreaded, both on this coast 
and in the pine forest of Eavenna, where the cattle 
are said to be occasionally poisoned by their bite. 


Mary Somerville. 

We had been acquainted witli the Eev. Dr., after- 
wards Cardinal Wiseman at Rome. He was head of 
a college of young men educating for the Catholic 
Church, who had their " villeggiatura " at Monte 
Porzio. We spent a day with him there, and visited 
Tusculum ; another day we went to Lariccia, where 
there is a palace and park belonging to the Chigi 
family in a most picturesque but dilapidated state. 
We went also to Genzano, Eocca del Papa, and 
occasionally to visit friends at Frascati. There was 
a stone threshing-floor behind our house. Dming the 
vintage we had it nicely swe23t and hghted with 
torches, and the grape gatherers came and danced 
till long after midnight, to the great amusement of 
my daughters, who joined in the dance, which was 
the Saltarello, a variety of the Tarantella. They 
danced to the beating of tambourines. Italy is the 
country of music, especially of melody, and the 
popular airs, especially the Neapolitan, are ex- 
tremely beautiful and melodious ; yet it is a fact, 
that the singing of the peasantry, particularly in 
the Roman and Neapolitan provinces, is most dis- 
agreeable and discordant. It is not melody at all, 
but a kind of wild chant, meandering through 
minor tones, without rhythm of any sort or apparent 
rule, and my daughters say it is very difficidt to 
note down ; yet there is some kind of method and 

Neapolita7i Mtisic. 


similarity in it as one hears it shouted out at the 
loudest pitch of the voice, the last note dwelt upon 
and drawn out to an immeasurable length. The 
words are frequently improvised by the singers, who 
answer one another from a distance, as they work 
in the fields. I have been told this style of chant- 
ing — singing it can hardly be called — has been 
handed down from the most ancient times, and it is 
said, in the southern provinces, to have descended 
from the early Greek colonists. The ancient Greeks 
are supposed to have chanted their poetry to music, 
as do the Italian improvisatori at the present day. 
In Tuscany, the words of the songs are often ex- 
tremely poetical and graceful. Frequently, these 
verses, called "storneUi" and "rispetti," are com- 
posed by the peasants themselves, women as well as 
men ; the language is the purest and most classical 
Italian, such as is spoken at the present day in the 
provinces of Siena, Pistoja, &c., very much less 
corrupted by fbreign idioms or adaptations than 
what is spoken, even by cultivated persons, in 
Florence itself. The picturesque costumes so uni- 
versal when I first came to Italy, in 1817, had 
fallen very much into disuse when, at a much later 
period, we resided in Kome, and now they are rarely 

We hired a handsome peasant girl from Al- 


Mary Somerville. 

bano as housemaid, who was much admhed by 
our EngHsh friends in her scarlet cloth bodice^ 
trimmed with gold lace, and the silver spadone, or 
bodkin, fastening her plaits of dark hair ; but she 
very soon exchanged her picturesque costume for a 
bonnet, etc., in which she looked clumsy and 

[The following are extracts from letters written from 
Albano by my mother : — 


Albako, \<otli June, 1841. 

I was thankful to hear, my dearest Woronzow, 
from your last letter that Agnes is recovering so 

well We are very much pleased 

with oiu' residence at Albano ; the house, with its high 
sounding name of " ViUa," is more hke a farmhouse, with 
brick floors and no carpets, and a few chairs and tables, 
but the situation is divme. We are near the io]) of the 
hill, about lialf-a-mile above Albano, and have the most 
magnificent view in every direction, and such a variety 
of delightful walks, that we take a new one every 
evemng. For painting it is perfect ; every step is a 
picture. At present we have no one near, and lead the 
life of hermits ; but our friends have loaded us with 
books, and with drawing, painting, music, and -RTiting, 
we never have a moment idle. Almost every one has left 
Eome ; but the Enghsh have all gone elsewhere, as they 
are not so easily pleased with a house as we ai-e. The 



only gaj'^ thing we have done was a donkey ride yesterday 
to the top of Monte Cavo, and back by the lake of 


Albauo, Avgrist, 1841. 

I dare say you think it very long since you have 
heard from me, my dearest Woronzow, but the truth is, 
I have been writing so hard, that after I had finished my 
day's work, I was fit for nothing but idleness. The 
reason of my hui'ry is, that the scientific meeting takes 
place at Florence on the 15th of September, and as I 
think it probable that some of our English philosoj)hers 
will come to it, I hope to have a safe opportunity of 
sending home some MS. which it has cost me hard work 
to get ready, as I have undertaken a book more fit for 
the combination of a Society than for a single hand to 
accomplish. Lord Brougham was most kind when at 
Rome, and took so great an interest in it, that he has 
imdertaken to read it over, and give me his opinion 
and criticism, which will be very valuable, as I know 
no one who is a better judge of these matters. He will 
send it to Mr. Murray, and you had better consult with 
him about it, whether he thinks it will succeed or not. 
Both William and Martha like what I have done ; but I 
am very nervous about it, and wish you would read it if 

you have time « . We have been extremely quiet 

all the summer ; we have no neighbours, so that we 
amuse ourselves with our occupations. I get up between 
six and seven, breakfast at eight, and write till three, 
■when we dine ; after dinner, I write again till near six. 


Mary Somerville. 

when we go out and take a long walk ; come home to tea 
at nine, and go to bed at eleven : the same thing daj' 
after day, so you cannot expect a very amusing letter. 

I have another commission I wish you would 

do for me ; it is to inquire what discoveries Captain 
Ross has made at the South Pole. I saw a very interest- 
ing account in " Galignani " of what they have done, but 
cannot trust to a newspaper account so as to quote it. 

A new edition of my " Physical Sciences " was 
required, so the "Physical Geography" was laid 
aside for the present. On returning to Eome, we 
resumed our usual life, and continued to receive our 
friends in the evening without ceremony. There 
was generally a merry party round the tea table in 
a corner of the room. I cannot omit mentioning 
one of the most charming and intellectual of our 
friends, Don Michelangelo Gaetani, Duke of Ser- 
moneta, whose brilliant and witty conversation is 
unrivalled, and for whom I have had a very sin- 
cere friendship for many years. I found him lately 
as charming as ever, notwithstanding the cruel loss 
of his sight. The last time I ever dined out was at 
his house at Eome, when I was on my way to Naples 
in 1867. 

* * * ■ * * 

John Gibson, the sculptor, the most guileless and 
amiable of men, was now a dear friend. His style 

John Gibson, the Scidptor. 


was tlie purest Grecian, and had some of his works 
been found among the ruins, multitudes would have 
come to Eome to admire them. He was now in 
the height of his fame ; yet he was so kind and 
encouraging to young people that he allowed my 
girls to go and draw in his studio, and one 
of my daughters, with a friend, modelled there 
for some time. His drawings for bas-reliefs were 
most beautiful. He drew very slowly, but a line 
once drawn was never changed. He ignored 
India-rubber or bread-crumbs, so perfect was his 
knowledge of anatomy, and so decided the character 
and expression he meant to give. 

We had charades one evening in a small theatre 
in our house, which went oflF very well. There was 
much beauty at Rome at that time ; no one who was 
there can have forgotten the beautiful and brilliant 
Sheridans. I recollect Lady Dufferin at the Easter 
ceremonies at St. Peter's, in her widow's cap, with a 
large black crape veil thrown over it, creating quite 
a sensation. With her exquisite features, oval face, 
and somewhat fantastical head-dress, anything more 
lovely could not be conceived ; and the Roman 
people crowded round her in undisguised admiration 
of " la bella monaca Inglese." Her charm of manner 
and her brilliant conversation will never be forgotten 
by those who knew her. To my mind, Mrs. Norton 


Mary Somerville. 

was the most beautiful of the tliree sisters. Hers is 
a grand countenance, such as artists love to study. 
Gibson, whom I asked, after his return from England, 
which he had revisited after twenty-seven years' 
absence, what he thought of Englishwomen, replied, 
he had seen many handsome women, but no such 
sculptural beauty as Mrs. Norton's. I might add 
the Marchioness of Waterford, whose bust at ]\Iac- 
donald's I took at first for an ideal head, till I 
recognised the likeness. 

Lady Davy used to live a great deal at Eome, and 
took an active part in society. She talked a great 
deal, a,nd talked well when she spoke English, but 
like many of us had more pretension with regard to 
the things she could not do well than to those she 
really could. She was a Latin scholar, and as far as 
reading and knowing the literature of modern 
languages went she was very accomplished, but un- 
fortunately, she fancied she spoke them perfectly, 
and was never happier than when she had people of 
different nations dining with her, each of whom she 
addressed in his own language. Many amusing mis- 
takes of hers in speaking Italian were current in 
• both Roman and English circles. 


A few months were very pleasantly spent one 
summer at Perugia, where there is so much that is 



interesting to be seen. The neighbouring country is 
very beautiful, and the city being on the top of a 
hill is very cool during the hot weather. "We had 
an apartment in the Casa Oddi-Bagiioni — a name 
well known in Italian history — and I recollect spend- 
ing some very pleasant days with the Conte Oddi- 
Baglioni, at a villa called CoUe del Cardinale, some 
ten or twelve miles from the town. The house was 
large and handsomely decorated, with a profusion 
of the finest Chinese vases. On our toilet tables 
were placed perfumes, scented soap, and very 
elaborately embroidered nightdresses were laid out 
for use. I remember especially admiring the basins, 
jugs, &c., which were all of the finest japan enamel. 
There was a subterranean apartment where we 
dined, which was delightfully cool and pleasant, and 
at a large and profusely served dinner-table, while 
we and the guests with the owner of the house 
dined at the upper end, at the lower end and below 
the salt there were the superintendent of the Count's 
farms, a house decorator and others of that rank. It 
is not the only instance we met with of this very 
ancient custom. The first time SomerviUe and I 
came to Italy, years before this, while diniag at a 
very noble house, the wet-nurse took her place, as a 
matter of course, at the foot of the dinner-table. 
On the morning after our arrival and at a very 

254 Mary Somerville. 

early hour there was a very fine eclipse of the sun, 
though not total at Perugia or the neighbourhood ; 
the chill and unnatural gloom were very striking. 

Perugia is one of the places in which the ancient 
athletic game of pallone is played with spirit. It is 
so graceful when well played that I wonder our 
active young men have not adopted it. A large 
leather ball filled with condensed air is struck and 
returned again by the opponent with the whole 
force of their right arms, covered to the elbow with 
a spiked wooden case. The promptness and activity 
required to keep up the ball is very great, and the 
impetus with which it strikes is such, that the boxes 
for spectators in the amphitheatres dedicated to this 
game are protected by strong netting. It is a very 
complicated game, and, I am told, somewhat re- 
sembles tennis. 

On leaving Perugia we went for a few days to 
Asissi, spent a day at Chiusi, and then returned to 
Eome, which we found in a great state of excitement 
on account of three steamers which had just ar- 
rived from England to ply on the Tiber. The Pope 
and Cardinals made a solemn procession to bless 
them. No doubt they would have thought om* 
method of dashing a bottle of wine on a vessel on 
naming her highly profane. 

Tivoli, Veil, &c. 


We constantly made expeditions to the country, to 
Tivoli, Veii, Ostia, &c., and my daughters rode on the 
Campagna. One day they rode to Albano, and on 
returning after dark they told me they had seen a 
most curious cloud which never altered its position ; 
it was a very long narrow stripe reaching from the 
horizon till nearly over head — it was the tail of the 
magnificent comet of 1843. 

We met with a great temptation in an invitation 
from Lady Stratford Canning, to go and visit them 
at Buyukdere, near Constantinople, but res arcta 
prevented us from accepting what would have been 
so desirable in every respect. At this time I sat to 
our good friend Mr. Macdonald for my bust, which 
was much liked.* 

^ ^ ^ ^ 

One early summer we went to Loreto and Ancona, 
where we embarked for Trieste ; the weather seemed 
fine when we set ofi", but a storm came on, with 
thunder and lightning, very high sea and several 
waterspouts. The vessel rolled and pitched, and we 
were carried far out of our course to the Dalmatian 
coast. I was obliged to remain a couple of days at 
Trieste to rest, and was very glad when we arrived 

• The vessel on board -which this bust was shipped for England ran 
on a shoal and sank, but as the accident happened in shallow water, the 
bust was recovered, none the worse for its immersion in salt water. 


Mary Somerville. 

at Venice. The summer passed most deliglitfully 
at Venice, and we had ample time to see everything 
without hurry. I wrote very little this summer, 
for the scenery was so beautiful that I painted all 
day; my daughters drew in the Belle Arti, and 
Somerville had plenty of books to amuse him, 
besides sight-seeing, which occupied much of om- 
time. In the Armenian convent we met with 
Joseph Warten, an excellent mathematician and 
astronomer ; he was pastor at Neusatz, near Peter- 
wardein in Hungary, and he was making a tour 
through Europe. He asked me to give him a 
copy of the " Mechanism of the Heavens," and 
afterwards wrote in Latin to Somerville and sent 
me some errors of the press he had met with in my 
book, but they were of no use, as I never published 
a second edition. We returned to Eome by Eavenna, 
where we stayed a couple of days, then travelled 
slowly along the Adriatic Coast. From thence 
we went by Gubbio and Perugia to Orvieto, one 
of the most interesting towns in Italy, and one 
seldom visited at that time ; now the railway will 
bring it into the regular track of travellers. 


[A few extracts from letters, written and received 
during this summer by my mother, may not be without 
interest. Also parts of two from my mother's old and 



viilued friend Miss Joanna Baillie. The second letter 
was written several years later, and is nearly the last she 
ever wrote to my mother. 


Venice, 21s* July, 1843. 

I most sincerely rejoice to hear that Agnes and 
3'ou have gone to the Ehine, as I am confident a little 
change of air and scene will be of the greatest service to 

you both We are quite enchanted with Venice ; 

no one can form an idea of its infinite loveliness who has 
not seen it in summer and in moonhght. I often doubt 
my senses, and almost fear it may be a dream. We are 
lodged to perfection, the weather has been charming, no 
opj)ressive heat, though the thermometer ranges from 75^^ 
to 80°, accompanied by a good deal of scii'occo ; there are 
neither flies nor fleas, and as j'et the mosquitoes have not 
molested us. We owe much of our comfort to the house 
we are in, for there are scarcely any furnished lodgings, 
and the hotels are bad and dear, besides situation is 
everything at this season, when the smaller canals be- 
come offensive at low water, for, though there is little 
tide in the Mediterranean, there are four feet at new and 
full moon here, Avhich is a great blessing. We have now 
seen everything, and have become acquainted with every- 
body, and met mth kindness and attention beyond all 
description. Many of the great ducal families still 
exist, and live handsomely in theii- splendid palaces ; 
indeed, the decay of Venice, so much talked of, is 
quite a mistake ; certainly it is very different from 
what it was in its palmy days, but there is a good 
deal of activity and trade. The abolition of the law 



Maiy Somerville. 

of primogeniture has injured the noble families more 
than anything else. We rise earljs and are bus}' indoors 
all morning, except the. girls, who go to the Academy of 
the BdU Arti, and paint from ten till three. AVe dine at 
foui', and embark in om- gondola at six or seven, and row 
about on the glassy sea till nine, when we go to the 
Piazza of San Marco, listen to a very fine mihtar}'- band, 
and sit gossiping till eleven or tAvelve, and then row home 
by the Grand Canal, or make a visit in one of the various 
houses that are open to us. One of the most remarkable 
of these is that of the Countess Mocenigo's, who has in 
one of her drawing-rooms the portraits of six doges of the 
Mocenigo name. I was presented by her to the Due de 
Bordeaux, the other evening, a fat good-natured looldng 
person. I was presented also to the Archduke — I forget 
what — son of the Archduke Charles, and admu-al of the 
fleet here ; a nice youth, but not clever. We meet bim 
everywhere, and Somerville dined with him a few days 
ago. The only strangers of note are the Prince of Toui* 
and Taxis, and Marshal Marmont. The Venetian ladies 
are very ladylike and agreeable, and speak beautifully. 
We have received uncommon kindness from Mr. Rawdon 
Brown ; he has made us acquainted with everybody, as 
he is quite at home here, having been settled in Venice 
for several years, and has got a most beautiful house 
fitted up, in rococo style, with great taste ; he is an adept 
at Venetian history. He supplies us with books, which 

are a great comfort The other evening we were 

surprised by a perfect fleet of gondolas stopping under 
om* wmdows, from one of which we had the most beau- 
tiful serenade ; the moonlight was lilce day, and the effect 
was admirable. There was a festa the other night in a 
church on tlie water's edge ; the shore was illumiuated 


and hundreds of gondolas were darting along like swal- 
lows, the gondoliers rowing as if they had been mad, 
till the water was as much agitated as if there had been 
a gale of wmd : nothing could be more animated. You 
wdl perceive from Avhat I have said that the evening, till 
a late hour, is the time for amusement, in consequence of 
which I follow the Italian custom of sleeping after dinner, 
and am much the better for it. This place agrees par- 
ticularl}^ well with all of us, and is well suited for old 

people, who require air without fatigue 

Most affectionatel}', 

Mary Somerville. 


Venice, IHh Aur/ust, ISil). 

My dear AVoronzow, 

Youi" excellent letter, giving an account of yonr 
agreeable expedition up the Rhine, did not arrive till 
nearly a month after it was m-itten I regret ex- 
ceedingly you could not stay longer, ami still more that 
you could not come on and pay us a visit, and enjoy the 
charm of summer in Venice, so totally unlike every other 
place in every respect. I wished for you last night par- 
ticularly. As we were leaving the Piazza San Marco, 
about eleven, a boat came up, burning blue lights, with a 
piano, violins, flutes, and about twenty men on board, 
who sang choruses in the most delightful manner, and 
sometimes solos. They were follov/ed by an immense 
number of gondolas, and we joined the cortege, and all 
went under the Bridge of Sighs, where the effect was 
beautiful beyond description. We then all turned and 
entered the Grand Canal, which was entirely filled with 

s 2 


Mary Somerville. 

gondolas from one side to the other, jammed together, so 
that we moved m masse, and stopi^ed every now and then 
to burn blue or red Bengal lights before the principal 
palaces, singing going on all the while. We saw num- 
bers of our Venetian friends in their gondolas, enjoying 
the scene as much as Ave did, to whom it was almost netv. 
I never saw people who enjoj^ed life more, and thej' 
have much the advantage of us in their delicious climate- 
and aquatic amusements, so much more pictm'esque than 
what can be done on land. However, we have had no 
less than three dances latel}'. The Grand Duke of Mo- 
dena, with his son and daughter-in-law, were here, and to 
them a/6'^e was given by the Countess de Thm-n. The 
palace was brilliant Avith lights ; it is on the grand canal, 
and immediately under the balconj^ was a boat from 
Avhich fireworks were let off, and then a couple of boats 
succeeded them, in which choruses were sung. The vieAv 
from the balcony is one of the finest m Venice, and the 
night Avas charming, and there I was Avhile the dancing 
Avent on. . ... I never saAV SomerA^ille so well ; this 
place suits us to the life, constant air and no fatigue ; I 

never once have had a headache Now, my dear 

W., tell me your tale ; my tale is done. 

Yours affectionately, 

Mary Someea'ille. 


Some, Palazzo Lepei, Via Dei Condotti, 27 tli October, 1843. 

My dearest Woronzoav, 

We had a beautiful journey to Rome, 

Avitli fine Aveather and no annoyance, notAvithstanding the 
disturbed state of the country. At Tadua we only re- 



mained long enough to see the churches, and it Avas 
impossible to pass within a few miles of Arqua without 
paying a visit to the house of Petrarch. At Ferrara we 
had a letter to the Cardinal Legate, who was very civil. 
His i)alace is the ancient abode of the house of Este. 
, . . . We had a long visit from hun in the evening, and 
found him most agreeable ; he regretted that there was 
no opera, as he would have been happy to offer us his 
box. Foui'teen of those unfortunate men who have been 
maldng an attempt to raise an insm'rection were arrested 
the day before ; and the night before we slept at Lugo, 
the Carabineers had searched the inn during the night, 
entering the rooms where the people were sleeping. We 
should have been more than surprised to have been 
wakened by armed men at midnight. In traveUini' 
through Italy the reliqaes and history of the early Chris 
tians and of the Middle Ages have a greater attraction foi 
me than those of either the Ilomans or Etruscans, interest- 
ing though these latter be, and in this journey my taste was 
ampty gratified, especially at Ravenna, where the church 
-of San Vitale and the Basi-lica of St. Apollinare in Classis, 
both built early in the 6th centurj^, are the most magnifi- 
cent specimens imaginable. Here also is the tomb of 
Theodore, a most wonderful building ; the remains of his 
palace and nimiberless other objects of interest, too 
tedious to mention. Everj"- church is full of them, and 
most valuable MSS. abound in the libraries. I lilce the 
history of the Middle Ages, because one feels that there is 
something in common between them and us ; their names 
still exist in their descendants, who often inhabit the 
very palaces they dwelt in, and their very portraits, by 
the great masters, still hang in their halls ; whereas we 
know nothing about the Greeks and Romans except their 


Mary Somerville. 

public deeds — their private life is a blank to us. Our 
journey through the Apennines was most beautiful, pass- 
ing for days under the shade of magnificent oak forests 
or vallej's rich in wine, oil, grain, and sillc. We deviated 
from the main road for a short distance to Gubbio, to see 
the celebrated Eugubian tables, wliich are as sharp as if 
thej' had been engraved yesterdaj^, but in a lost language. 
We stopped to rest at Perugia, but all our friends were at 
their country seats, which we regretted. The country 
round Perugia is unrivalled for richness and beauty, but 
it rained the morning Ave resumed our joiu'nej'. It sigm- 
fi^ed the less as we had been previously at Citta della 
Pieve and Chiusi ; so Ave proceeded to Orvieto in fine 
Aveather, still through oak forests. Orvieto is situated on 
the top of an escarped hill, verj^ like the hill forts of 
India, and apparently as inaccessible ; 3^et, by duit of 
numberless tm'ns and AA-indings, Ave did get up, but only 
in time for bed. Next morning we saw the sun rise on 
the most glorious cathedral. After all Ave had seen we 
were completely taken by surprise, and Avere filled with 
the highest admiration at the extreme beauty and fine 

taste of this remarkable building 

Your affectionate mother, 

Maey Someratlle. 


Hampstead, i?ccCT«&CT' nth, 184:3. 
My dear Mrs. Somerville, 

Besides being proud of receiA'ing a letter from j-ou, 
I was much pleased to knoAV that I am, though at such 
a distance, sometimes in your thoughts. I was nuich 

yoanna Bailiie. 


pleased, too, with what 3^011 have said of the health and 
other gratifications you enjo}' in Italy. I should gladly 
have thanked you at the time, had I known how to 
address my letter ; and after receiving yoiu- proper 
direction from our friend Miss Montgomery, I have 
heen prevented from using it by various thuigs .... 
But though so long silent I have not been ungrateful, 
and thank you with all mj' heart. The account you 
give of Venice is very interesting. There is something 
affecting in still seeing the descendants of the former 
Doges holding a diminished state in theii" remaining 
palaces with so much com'tesj' . I am sure you have found 
yourself a guest in their saloons, hung with j)aintuigs 
of their ancestors, with very mixed feelings. However, 
V enice to the eye, as you describe it, is Venice still ; 
and with its lights at night gleaming upon the waters 
makes a very vivid pictui-e to my fancj'. You no doubt 
have fixed it on canvas, and can carry it about with you 
for the dehght of your friends who maj^ never see the 

In return to j^our kind inquiries after vis, I have, all 
things considered, a very good accomit to give. Ladies 
of fom' score and upwards cannot expect to be robust, 
and need not be gay. We sit by the fire-side with 
om' books (except when those plaguy notes are to be 
written) and receive the visits of our friendly neighbours 
very contentedly, and, I ought to say, and trust T 

may say, very thankfully This morning brought 

one in whom I feel sure that you and your daughters 
take some interest, Maria Edgeworth. She has been 
dangerously ill, but is now nearl}^ recovered, and is 
come from Ireland to pass the w'inter months with 
her sisters in London : weak in body, but the mind 

Mary Somerville. 

as clear and the spirits as buoyant as ever. You will 
be glad to hear that she even has it in her thoughts 
to write a new Avork, and has the plan of it nearly 
arranged. There will be nothing new in the story 
itself, but the purpose and treating of it will be new, 
which is, perhaps, a better thing. In our retired way of 
living, we know little of what goes on in the literary 

world I Avas, however, in town for a few hours 

the other day, and called upon a lady of rank who has 
fashionalle learned folks coming about her, and she in- 
formed me that there are new ideas regarding philosopln- 
entertained in the world, and that Sir John Herschel 
was now considered as a slight, second-rate man, or 
person. Who are the first-rate she did not say, and, I 
suppose, you will not be much mortified to hear that j-our 
name Avas not mentioned at all. So much for om* learning. 
My sister was much disappointed the other day AA'hen, in 
expectation of a ghost story from Mr. Dickens, she only 
got a grotesque moral allegorj^ ; noAv, as she delights in 
a ghost and hates an allegory, this Avas very provoking. 

Believe me. 
My dear Mrs. SomerviEe, 

Yours with admiration and esteem, 

J. Baillie. 


Hampstead, Janvanj Wt, 18.51. 

My deah Fkiend, 

My dear Mary Somerville, Avhom I am proud to 
call my friend, and that she so calls me. I could sny 
much on this point, but I dare not. I received your 

Sir yohu Herschel. 


letter from Mr. Greig last niglit, and tliank you very 
gi'atefully. If my head were less confused I should do it 
hetter, but the pride I have in thinldng of you as philoso- 
pher and a woman cannot be exceeded. I shall read j^our 
letter many times over. My sister and myself at so great 
•an age are waiting to be called away in mercy by an 
Ahnighty Father, and we part with oiu' earthly friends as 
those whom we shall meet again. My great monster 
book is noAv published, and your copy I shall send to your 
son who will peejD mto it, and then forward it to your- 
self. I beg to be kindly and respectfully remembered to 
your Inisband ; I offer my best Avishes to your daugh- 

Yours, my dear Friend, 

Very faithfully, 

Joanna Baillie. 

My sister begs of you and all youi' family to accept her 
hest wishes. 


\Uli March, 1844. 

My dear Mrs. Sojierville, 

To have received a letter from you so long ago, and 
not yet to have thanked you for it, is what I could hardly 
have believed myself— if the rapid lapse of time in the 
uniform retirement in which we live were not pressed upon 
me in a variety of ways which convince me that as a man 
grows older, his sand, as the grains get low in the glass, 
■sHps through more glibly, and steals away with accele- 
rated speed. I wish I could either send you a copy of 
my Cape observations, or tell yon they are published 


Mary Somerville. 

or even iii the press. Far from it — I do not expect tO' 
" go to press " before another 3'^ear has elapsed, for 
though I have got my catalogues of Southern nebulae 
and Double stars reduced and arranged, yet there is a 
gi'eat deal of other matter still to be ^yorked through, and 
I have every description of reduction entu-ely to execute 
niyself. These are very tedious, and I am a very slow 
computer, and have been continually taken off the sub- 
ject by other matter, forced upon me by " pressm-e from 
without." What I am now engaged on is the monograph 
of the principal Southern Nebulae, the object of which is 
to put on record every ascertainable particular of their 
actual appearance and the stars visible in them, so as to 
satisfy future observers whether neiv stars have appeared, 
or changes taken place in the nebulositj^ To what an 
extent tliis work may go j^ou may judge from the fact 
that the catalogue of visible stars actually mapped down 
in their places withia the space of less than a square 
degree in the nebula about r? Argus which I have just 
completed comprises between 1300 and 1400 stars. 
This is indeed a stupendous object. It is a vastly ex- 
tensive branching and looped nebula, in the centre of the 
densest part of which is 77 Argus, itseK a most remark- 
able star, seeing that from the fom-th magnitude which it 
had in Ptolemy's time, it has risen (by sudden starts, and 
not gradually) to such a degTee of brilliancy as now 
actually to surpass Canopus, and to be second only to 
Sirius. One of these leaps I myself witnessed Avhen in 
the interval of ceasing to observe it ui one j'ear, and re- 
suming its observation in two or three months after in 
the next, it had sprung over the heads of all the stars of 
the first magnitude, from Fomalhaut and Eegidus (the 
two least of them) to a Centauri, which it then just. 

Planetary Nebtilcs. 


equalled, and which is the brightest of all hut Canopus 
and Sirius ! It has since made a fresh jump — and who 
can say it will be the last ? 

One of the most beautiful objects in the southern 
hemisphere is a prettj- large, perfectly round, and very 
well-defined planetary nebula, of a fine, full indejiendent 
blue colour — the only object I have ever seen in the 
heavens faMy entitled to be called independently blue, 
i.e., not by contrast. Another superb and most strilcing 
object is Lacaille's 30 Doradus, a nebula of great size in 
the larger nubicula, of which it is impossible to give a 
better idea than to compare it to a "true lover's laiot," 
or assemblage of neai'ty circular nebulous loops uniting 
in a centre, in or near which is an exactl}' circular roimd 
dark hole. Neither this nor the nebula about 17 Argus 
have any, the slightest, resemblance to the representations 

given of them b}' Dunlop As you are so kind as to 

offer to obtain information on anj' pomts interesting to 
me at Rome, here is one on which I earnestly desire to 
obtain the means of forming a correct opinion, i.e., the 
real powers and merits of De Vico's great refractor at the 
Collegio Romano. De Vico's accounts of it appear to 
me to have not a little of the extra-marvellous in them. 
Saturn's tico close satellites regularl}' observed — eight 
stars in the trapezium of Orion ! a Aquilse (as Schuma- 
cher mquii'ingly writes to me) divided into three ! the 
supernumerarj^ divisions of Saturn's ring well seen, &c., 
&c. And all by a Cauchoix refractor of eight inches ? I 
fear me that these wonders are not for female eyes, the 
good monks are too well aware of the penetratmg quali- 
ties of such optics to allow them entry withui the seven- 
fold walls of then- Collegio. Has Somendlle ever looked 
through it? On his report I Imow I could quite rely. As 


Mary Somerville. 

for Lord Rosse's great reflector, I can only tell you what I 
hear, having never seen it, or even his three feet one. 
The great one is not yet completed. Of the other, 
those who have looked through it speak in raptures. I 
met not long since an officer who, at Halifax in Nova 
Scotia, saw the comet at noon close to the sun, and very 
conspicuous the day after the perihelion passage. 

Your account of the pictures and other dcliclce of 
Venice makes our mouths water ; hut it is of no use, so 
we can only congratulate those who are in the full enjo}'- 
ment of such things. 

Ever yours most truly, 

J. Heeschel. 

On returning to Eome I was elected Associate of 
the College of liisurgenti, and in the following April 
I became an honorary member of the Imperial and 
Eoyal Academy of Science, Literature and Art at 
Arezzo. I finished an edition of the Physical 
Sciences, at which I had been worldng, and in 
spring Somcrville hired a small house belonging 
to the Duca Sforza Cesarini, at Genzano, close to 
and with a beautiful -view of the Lake of Nemi ; 
but as I had not seen my son for some time, I 
now availed myself of the opportunity of travelling 
with our friend Sir Frederick Adam to England. 
We crossed the Channel at Ostend, and at the 
mouth of the Thames lay the old "Venerable," 
in Avhich my fatlier was flag-captain at the 

Visits in England. 


battle of Camperclown. I had a joyful 'meeting 
with my son and his wife, and we went to see 
many things that were new to me. One of our 
first exjDeditions was to the British Mnseum. I had 
already seen the Elgin marbles, and the antiquities 
collected at Babylon by Mr. Eich, when he was 
Consul at Bagdad, but now the Museum had been 
emiched by. the maxbles from Halicarnassus, and 
by the marvellous remains excavated by Mr. Layard 
from the ruins of Nineveh, the very site of which 
had been for ages unknown. 

I frequently went to Turner's studio, and was 
always welcomed. No one could imagine that so 
much poetical feeling existed in so rough an exterior. 
The water-colour exhibitions were very good ; my 
countrymen still maintained their superiority in that 
style of art, and the drawings of some English ladies 
were scarcely inferior to those of first-rate artists, 
especially those of my friend, Miss Blake, of 

While in England I made several visits ; the first 
was to my dear friends Sir John and Lady Herschel, 
at Collingwood, who received me with the warmest 
affection. I cannot express the pleasure it gave me 
to feel myself at home in a family where not only 
the highest branches of science were freely discussed, 
but where the accomplishments and graces of life 


Mary SonierviLle. 

"were cultivated. I was liigiily gratified and proud 
of being godmother to Eosa, the daughter of Sir 
John and Lady Herschel. Among other places near 
CoUinffwood I was taken to see an excellent ohserva- 
tory formed by Mr. Dawes, a gentleman of inde- 
pendent fortune ; and here I must remark, to the 
honour of my countrymen, that at the time I am 
writing, there are twenty-six private observatories in 
Great Britain and Ireland, furnished with first-rate 
instruments, with which some of the most important 
astronomical discoveries have been made. 

[I received the following letter from my mother while 
we were at Geiizano. It is one of several which record, 
m her natural and unaffected words my mother's profound 
admhation for Sir John Herschel. 


Sydenham, Is* September, 18i4. 
Sunday Night. 

My dear Martha, 

.... We go to the Herscliels' to-morrow, and there I 
shall finish tliis letter, as it is imiiossible to get it in 
time for Tuesday's post, hwi I have so much to do now 
that you must not expect a letter every post, and I had 
no time to begin this before, and I am too thed to sit up 
later to-night 


This appears to be a remarkably beautiful place, with 
abundance of fine timber. . . . W. brought your dear nice 

A Godchild. 


letter ; it makes me long to be with you, and, please God, 
I shall be so before long, as I set off this day fortnight. , 


Yesterday I had a gTeat deal of scientific taUc with 
Sir John, and a long walk in the gi-ounds which are 
extensive, and very pretty. Then the Airys arrived, and 

Ave had a large party at dinner I think, now, 

as I always have done, that Sir John is by much the 
highest and finest character I have ever met with ; the 
most gentlemanly and pohshed mind, combmed with the 
most exalted morahty, and the utmost of human attain- 
ment. His view of everything is philosophic, and at the 
same time higlily poetical, in short, he combines every 
quahtj'^ that is admirable and excellent with the most 
chai'ming modesty, and Lady Herschel is quite worthy of 
such a husband, which is the greatest praise I can give 
her. Then- khidness and affection for me has been un- 
bounded. Lady H. told me she heard such praises of you 
two that she is anxious to know you, and she hopes you 
mU always look upon her and her family as fiiends. The 
christening went off ass well as possible. Mr. Airy was 
godfather, and Mrs. Aiiy and I godmothers, but I had 
the naming of the child — Matilda Rose, after Lady 
Herschel's sister. I assui'e you I was quite adroit in 
taking the baby from the nui'se and giving her to the 
clergyman. Sh John took Mrs. Any and me a di'ive to see 
a very fine picturesque castle a few miles off. ... I have 
got loads of thmgs for experiments on light from Su' John 
with a variety of papers, and you may believe that I have 
profited not a Httle by his conversation, and have a tbou- 
sand projects for study and Avriting, so I think painting 
will be at a standstill, only tliat I have promised to paint 

Mary Somerville. 

something for Lady Herscliel. Sir John computes fom- 
or five hom-s everj^ daj^ and yet his 'Cape observations 
will not be finished for two years. I have seen every- 
thing he is or has been doing. 

Your affectionate mother, 

Maev Somerville. 

[My mother continues her recollections of this journey. 

My next visit was to Lord and Lady Charles Percy, 
at Guy's Cliff, in Warwickshire, a pretty pictui-esque 
place of historical and romantic memory. The 
society was pleasant, and I was taken to Kenilworth 
and AVarwick Castle, on the banks of the Avon, a 
noble place, still bearing marks of the Wars of the 
Eoses. I never saw such magnificent oak-trees as 
those on the Leigh estate, near Guy's Cliff. 

I then visited my maiden namesake, Mrs. 
Fairfax, of Gilling Castle, Yorkshire. She was a 
highly cultivated person, had been much abroad, 
and was a warm-hearted friend. I was much inte- 
rested in the principal room, for a deep frieze sur- 
rounds the wall, on which are painted the coats of 
arms of all the families with whom tlie Fairfaxes 
have intermarried, ascending to very great antiquity ; 
besides, every pane of glass in a very large baj- 
window in the same room is stained with one of 
these coats of arms. Every morning after breakfast 

Jedburgh Abbey. 


a prodigious flock of pea-fowl came from the woods 
around to be fed. 

I now went to the vicinity of Kelso to visit my 
brother and sister-in-law, General and Mrs. Elliot, 
w^ho lived on the banks of the Tweed. We went to 
Jedburgh, the place of my birth. After many years 
I still thought the valley of the Jed very beautiful ; 
I fear the pretty stream has been invaded by manu- 
factories : there is a perpetual war between civiliza- 
tion and the beauty of nature. I went to see the spot 
from whence I once took a sketch of Jedburgh Abbey 
and the manse in which I was born, which does not 
exist, I believe, now. When I was a very young girl 
I made a painting from this sketch. Our next 
excursion was to a lonely village called Yetholm, in 
the hills, some miles from Kelso, belonging to the 
gipsies. The " king " and the other men were absent, 
but the women were civil, and some of them very 
pretty. Our j^rincipal object in going there was to 
see a stone in the wall of a small and very ancient 
church at Linton, nearly in ruins, on which is carved 
in relief the wyvern and wheel, the crest of the 

From Kelso I went to Edinburgh to spend a few 
days with Lord Jeffrey and his family. No one who 
had seen his gentle kindness in domestic life, and 
the warmth of his attachment to his fi'iends, could 



Mary Somerville. 

have supposed he possessed that power of ridicule 
and severity which made him the terror of authors. 
His total ignorance of science may perhaps excuse 
him for having admitted into the " Eeview" 
Brougham's intemperate article on the undulatoiy 
theory of light, a discovery which has immortalized 
the name of Dr. Young. I found Edinbm-gh, the 
city of my early recollections, picturesque and 
beautiful as ever, but enormously increased both to 
the north and to the south. Queen Street, which in 
my youth was open to the north and commanded a 
view of the Forth and the mountains beyond, was 
now in the middle of the new town. All those I 
had formerly known were gone — a new generation 
had sprung up, living in all the luxury of modern 
times. On returning to London I spent a pleasant 
time with my son and his wife, who invited all those 
to meet me whom they thought I should like to see. 

[My mother returned to Eome iii autumn in com- 
pany with an old friend and her daughter. 

The winter passed without any marked event, but 
always agreeably ; new people came, making a plea- 
sant variety in the society, which, though still 
refined, was beginning to be very mixed, as was 
amusingly seen at Torlonia's balls and tableaux 

Pushing People. 


where many of tlie guests formed a singular contrast 
with the beautiful Princess, who was of the historical 
family of the Colonnas. I was often ashamed of 
my countrymen, who, all the while speaking of 
the Italians with contempt, tried to force themselves 
into their houses. Prince Borghese refused the 
same person an invitation to a ball five times. I 
was particularly scrupulous about invitations, and 
never asked for one in my life ; nor did I ever seek 
to make acquaintances with the view of being in- 
vited to their houses. 

[The following letters give a sketch of life during the 
summer months at Rome : — 


EOME, Zrd August, 1845. 

My dear Woronzow, 

I am glad you are so much pleased 

with my bust, and that it is so little injured after having 
been at the bottom of the sea. You wiU find Macdonald 
a very agi-eeable and original person. As to spending the 
summer in Rome, you may make yourself quite easy, for 
the heat is veiy bearable, the thermometer varymg 
between 75° and 80° m our rooms dm-ing the day, which 
are kept in darlmess, and at night it always becomes 
cooler. Thank God, we are all quite weU, and SomerviUe 
particularly so; he goes out during the day to amuse 

T 2 


Mary Somerville. 

himself, and the girls i^aiiit in the Borghese gallery. As- 
for myself I have always plenty to do till half past three, 
when we dine, and after dinner I sleep for an hom' or 
more, and when the sun is set we go out to wander a Httle,. 
for a long walk is too fatiguing at this season. We have 
very Uttle society, the only variety we have had was a 
very pretty supper party given by Signore Eossi, the 
French minister to the Prince and Princess de Broglie^ 
son and daughter-in-law of the duke. The j'oung lady 
is extremely beautiful, and as I knew the late Duchesse- 
de Broghe (Madame de Stael's daughter) we soon got 
acquamted. Thej^ are newly married, and have come to 
spend part of the summer in Eome, so you see people 
are not so much alarmed as the Enghsh. . . We went 
yesterday evening to see the Piazza Navona full of water ; 
it is flooded every Saturday and Sunday at this season ; 
there is music, and the whole population of Rome is 
collected round it, carts and carriages splashing tlu'ough 
it hi all directions. Itliink it must be about tln-ee feet deep. 
It was there the ancient Romans had then- naval games ; 
and the custom of filling it with Avater ui summer has 
lasted ever since. The fountam is one of the most 
beautiful in Rome, which is sayuig a great deal ; indeed 
the immense gush of the purest water from imiumerable 
fountains in every street and every villa is one of the 
peculiarities of Rome. I fear from what I have heard of 
those in Trafalgar Square that the quantity of water will 
be very miserable. 

The papers (I mean the Times), are fuU of abuse of 
Mr. Sedgwick and Dr. Buckhxnd, but their adversaries 
Avrite such nonsense that it matters little. I do not 
think I have anything to add to my new edition. If 
you hear of anything of moment let me know. Perhaps 

Life at Rome. 277 

•something may have transpii-ecl at the British Asso- 

Your affectionate mother, 

Mary Somerville. 


Rome, May 28tk, 18i5. 

My dear Woronzow, 

I don't know why I have so long delayed writmg 
io you. I rather tliink it is because we have been living 
so quiet a life, one day so precisely similar to the pre- 
■ceding, that there has been nothmg worth writing about. 
This is oiu' first reaUy summer-like day, and splendid it is ; 
but we are sittmg in a kind of twilight. The only means 
•of keeping the rooms cool is by keeping the house dark 
and shutting out the external air, and then in the evening 
we have a dehghtful wallc ; the coruitry is splendid, the 
Campagna one sheet of deep verdure and flowers of ever}'- 
kind in abundance. We generally have six or seven large 
nosegays in the room ; we have only to go to some of the 
neighbouring villas and gather them. Most of the 
EngHsh are gone ; people make a great mistake m not 
remaining dm-ing the hot weather, this is the time for en- 
joyment. We are busy all the morning, and in the after- 
noon we take our book or drawing materials and sit on 
the grass in some of the lovely villas for hom-s ; then we 
<;ome home to tea, and are glad to see anyone who will 
come in for an hoiu- or two. We have had a son of 
Mr. B abb age here. He is employed in making the 
railway that is to go from Genoa to Milan, and he was 
travelling with eight other Englishmen wlio came to make 


Mary Somerville. 

arrangements for covering Italy with a network of these- 
iron roads, connecting all the great cities and also the 
two seas from Venice to Milan and Genoa and from 
Ancona by Rome to Civita Vecchia. However the Pope is 
opposed to the latter part, but they say the cardinals and 
people wish it so much that he will at last consent ..... 
Many thanks for the Vestiges, &c. I think it a powerful 
production, and was liighly j)leased mth it, but I can easily 
see that it will offend in some quarters ; however it 
should be remembered that there has been as much 
ojiposition to the true system of astronomy and to geo- 
logical facts as there can be to tlais. At all events free 
and open discussion of all natural and moral phenomena 
must lead to truth at last. Is Babbage the author ? I 
rather think he would not be so careful in conceahng his 

[My mother made some cm'ious experiments upon the 
effect of the solar spectrum on juices of plants and other 
substances, of which she sent an account to Sir John 
Herschel, who answered telling her that he had com- 
municated her account of her experiments to the EoyaJ 


COLLrNGWOOD, NovenihcT 2lst, 184r5. 
My dear Mrs. Somer-ntxle, 

I cannot express to you the jileasure I experi- 
enced from the receipt of yom- letter and the perusal of 
the elegant experiments it relates, which appear to me of 
the highest interest and show (what I always suspected), 
that there is a world of wonders awaiting disclosure in 

Mrs. Somerville s Experiments. 279 

the solar spectrum, and that influences widely diiFering 
from either light, heat or colour are transmitted to us 
from oiu' central luminary, which are mainly instrumental 
in evolving and maturing the splendid hues of the 
vegetable creation and elaborating the juices to wliich 
they owe their beauty and then- vitalit)-. I think it 
certain that heat goes for something in evaporating yom* 
liquids and thereby causmg some of your phenomena ; 
but there is a difference of qnaliiy as well as of quantity 
of heat brought into view which renders it susceptible of 
analysis by the coloured juices so that in certain parts 
of the spectrum it is retained and fixed, in others reflected 
according as the natm-e of the tint favours the one or the 
other. Pray go on with these delightful experiments, I 
wish you could save yourself the fatigue of watching and 
directing 3'our sunbeam by a clock work. If I were at 
yom- elbow I could rig you out a heliotrope quite 
sufficient -with the aid of any common wooden clock. 

Now I am going to take a liberty (but not till 

after duly consultmg Mr. Greig with whose ajiprobation 
I act, and you are not to gainsay our proceedings) and 
that is to communicate your results in the form of 
" an extract of a letter " to myself — to the Roj^al Society. 
You may be very sure that I would not do this if I 
thought that the experiments were not intrinsically quite 
deserving to be recorded in the pages of the Phil. Trans, 
and if I were not sure that they will lead to a vast field 
of curioiis and beautiful research ; and as you have 
already once contributed to the Societj', (on a subject 
connected with the spectrum and the sunbeam) this will, 
I trust, not appear in yoiu" eyes in a formidable or a 
repulsive light, and it will be a great matter of congratu- 
lation to us all to know that these subjects continue to 


Mary Somerville. 

engage your attention, and that you can tui'n your 
residence in that sunny chme to such admirable account. 
So do not call upon me to retract (for before you get this 
the papers wiU be in the secretary's hands). 

I am here nearly as much out of the full stream of 
scientific matters as you at Rome. We had a fiiU and 
very satisfactory meeting at Cambridge of the British 
Association, with a full attendance of continental magne- 
tists and meteorologists, and within these few days I 
have learned that our Government meant to grant all our 
requests and continue the magnetic and meteorological 
observations. Humboldt has sent me his Cosmos (Vol. I.), 
which is good, all but the first 60 pages, which are 
occupied in telling liis readers what his book is not to be. 
Dr. "Wliewell has just published anotlier book on the 
Principles of Morals, and also another on education, in 
which he cries up the geometrical processes in preference 
to analysis 

Yom's very faithfully, 

J. Herschel. 

The Prince and Princesse de Broglic came to 
Rome in 1845, and Signore PellegTino Rossi, at this 
time French Minister at the Vatican, gave them a 
supper party, to which we were invited. AVe had 
met with him long before at Geneva., where he had 
taken refuge after the insurrection of 1821. He was 
greatly esteemed there and admired for his eloquence 
in the lectures he gave in the University. It was 



a curious circumstance, that he, who was a Roman 
subject, and was exiled, and, if I am not mis- 
taken, condemned to death, should return to Rome 
as French Minister. He had a remarkably fine 
countenance, resembling some ancient Roman bust. 
M. Thiers had brought in a law in the French 
Chambers to check the audacity of the Jesuits, and 
Rossi was sent to negotiate with the Pope. We had 
seen much of him at Rome, and were horrified, in 
1848, to hear that he had been assassinated on the 
steps of the Cancelleria, at Rome, where the Legisla- 
tive Assembly met, and whither he was proceeding 
to attend its first meeting. No one ofiered to assist 
him, nor to arrest the murderers except Dr. Panta- 
leone, a much esteemed Roman physician, and mem- 
ber of the Chamber, who did what he could to save 
him, but in vain ; he was a great loss to the Liberal 

ToAvards the end of summer we spent a month 
most agreeably at Subiaco, receiving much civility 
from the Benedictine monks of the Sacro Speco, and 
visiting all the neighbouring towns, each one perched 
on some hill-top, and one more romantically pictur- 
esque than the other. It was in this part of the 
country that Claude Lorraine and Poussin studied 
and painted. I never saw more beautiful country, 
or one which afforded so many excj^uisite subjects for 


Mary Somerville. 

a landscape painter. We went all over the country 
on mules — ^to some of tlie towns, sucli as Cervara, up 
steep flights of steps cut in the rock. The people, 
too, were extremely picturesque, and the women 
still wore their costumes, which probably now they 
have laid aside for tweeds and Manchester cottons, 

I often during my winters in Eome went to paint 
from nature in the Campagna, either with Somer- 
ville or with Lady Susan Percy, who drew very 
prettily. Once we set out a little later than usual, 
when, dri\ang through the Piazza of the Bocca della 
Verita, we both called out, " Did you see that ? 
How horrible ! " It was the guillotine ; an execution 
had just taken place, and had we been a quarter of an 
hour earlier we should have passed at the fatal 
moment. Under Gregory XVI. everything was 
conducted in the most profound secrecy ; arrests 
were made almost at our very door, of which we 
knew nothing ; Mazzini was busily at work on one 
side, the Jesuitical party actively intriguing, accord- 
ing to their wont, on the other ; and in the mean 
time society went on gaily at the surface, ignorant 
of and indifferent to the course of events. We 
were preparing to leave Eome when Gregory died. 
We put off our journey to see his funeral, and 
the Conclave, which terminated, in the course 
of scarcely two days, in the election of Pius IX. 

Pw IX. 


We also saw the new Pope's coronation, aneV 
witnessed the beginning of that popularity which 
lasted so short a time. Much was expected 
from him, and in the beginning of his reign 
the moderate liberals fondly hoped that Ital}' 
would unite in one great federation, with Pius IX. 
at the head of it ; entirely forgetting how incom- 
patible a theocracy or government by priests ever 
must be with all progress and with liberal institu- 
tions. Their hopes were soon blighted, and after all 
the well-known events of 1848 and 184.9, a reaction 
set in all over Italy, except in gallant little Pied- 
riiont, where the constitution was maintained, 
thanks to Victor Emmanuel, and especially to that 
great genius, Camillo Cavour, and in spite of the 
disastrous reverses at No vara. Once more in 1859 
Piedmont went to war with Austria, this time with 
success, and with the not disinterested help of 
France. One province after another joined her, 
and Italy, freed from all the little petty princes^ 
and last, not least, from the Bourbons, has become 
that one great kingdom which Avas the dream of 
some of her greatest men in times of old. 

We went to Bologna for a short time, and there 
the enthusiasm for the new Pope Avas absolutely 
intolerable. "Viva Pio Nono ! " was shouted night- 
and day. There was no repose ; bands of music 


Mary Somerville. 

went about tlic streets, playing airs composed for 
the occasion, and in the theatres it was even worse, 
for the acting was interrupted, and the orchestra 
called upon to play the national tunes in vogue, 
and repeat them again and again, amid the deafen- 
ing shouts and applause of the excited audience. 
We found the Bolognese very sociable, and it was 
by far the most musical society I ever was in. 
Kossini was living in Bologna, and received in the 
evening, and there was always music, amatem- and 
professional, at his house. Frequently there was 
part-singing or choruses, and after the music was 
over the evenins; ended with a dance. We fre- 
quently saw Rossini some years later, when we 
resided at Florence. He was clever and amusino- in 
conversation, but satirical. He was very bitter 
against the modern style of opera-singing, and con- 
sidered the singers of the present day, with some 
exceptions, as wanting in study and finish. He 
objected to much of the modern music, as dwelling 
too constantly on the highest notes of the voice, 
whereby it is very soon deteriorated, and the singer 
forced to scream ; besides which, he considered the 
orchestral accompaniments too loud. I, who recol- 
lected Pasta, Malibran, Grisi, Rubini, and others of 
that epoch, could not help agreeing with liim when 
I compared them to the singers I heard at the 



Pergola and elsewhere. The theatre, too, was good 
at Bologna, and we frequently went to it. 

One evening we were sitting on the balcony of 
the hotel, when we saw a man stab another in the 
back of the neck, and then run away. The victim 
staggered along for a minute, and then fell do^vra in 
a pool of blood. He had been a spy of the police 
under Gregory XVI., and one of the principal 
agents of his cruel government. He was so ob- 
noxious to the people that his assassin has never 
been discovered. 

From Bologna we went for a few weeks to 
Eecoaro, where I drank the waters, after which we 
ti-avelled to England by the St. Gothard pass. 



We spent tlie autumn in visiting my relations on 
the banks of the Tweed. I was much out of health 
at the time. As winter came on I got better, and 
was preparing to print my " Physical Geography " 
when " Cosmos " appeared. I at once determined to 
put my manuscript in the fire when Somerville said, 
" Do not be rash — consult some of our friends — 
Herschel for instance." So I sent the MS. to Sir 
John Herschel, who advised me by all means to 
publish it. It was very favourably reviewed by Sir 
Hemy Holland in the " Quarterly," which tended 

Hicmdoldt's Letter. 


much to its success. I afterwards sent a copy of a 
later edition to Baron Humboldt, who wrote me a 
very kind letter in return. 


A Sans Souci, ce 12 Juillet, 1849. 


C'est un devoii' bien doux a rempliv, Madame, 
que de vous ofFru- I'liommage renouvelle de mon devoue- 
ment et de ma respectueuse admii-ation. Ces sentimens 
datent de bien loin chez I'homme antidiluvien auquel 
vous avez daigne adresser des lignes si aimables et la 
nouvelle edition de ce bel ouvrage qui m'a charme et 
instruit des qu'il avait paru pour la i^remiere fois. A cette 
grande superiorite que vous possedez et qui a si noble- 
ment iUustre votre nom, dans les hautes regions de 
I'analyse matliematique, vous joignez, Madame, une 
variete de connaissances dans toutes les parties de la 
physique et de I'histoire natm-elle descriptive. Apres 
votre " Mechanism of the Heavens," le philosophique 
ouvrage " Connexion of the Physical Sciences " avait 
ete I'objet de ma constante admiration. Je I'ai lu en entier 
et puis relu dans la septieme edition qui a paru en 1846 
dans les tems oii nous etions plus calme, ou I'orage 
politique ne grondait que de loin. L'auteur de I'im- 
prudent " Cosmos " devoit saluer plus que tout autre la 
" Geographie Physique " de Mary SomerviUe. J'ai su 
me la prociu'er des les premieres semaines par les soins 
de notre ami commun le Chev. Bunsen. Je ne connais 
dans aucune langue un ouvrage de Geographie physique 


Mary Somerville. 

que Ton pourrait comparer au votre. Je I'ai de nouveau 
etudie dans la deniiere edition que je dois a votre 
gracieuse bienveillance. Le sentiment de precision que 
vos habitudes de " Geometre " vous ont si profondement 
imprime, penetre tous vos travaux, Madame. Aucun 
fait, aucune des grandes vues de la nature vous ecliap- 
pent. Vous avez profite et des livres et des conversa- 
tions des voj'^agevirs dans cette malliem'euse Italie ou 
passe la gTande route de I'Orient et de I'lnde. J'ai ete 
surpris de la justice de vos apercus sm* la Geographie 
des plantes et des animaux. Vous dominez dans ces 
regions comme en astronomie, en meteorologie, en ma- 
gnetisme. Que n'ajoutez-vous pas la sphere celeste, 
I'uranologie, votre patrimoine, a la sphere terrestre ? 
C'est vous seule qui pourriez donner a votre belle litera- 
ture un ouvrage cosmologique original, un ouvrage ecrit 
avec cette lucidite et ce gout que distingue tout ce qui 
est emane de votre plume. On a, je le sais, beaucoup de 
bienveillance pour mon Cosmos dans votre patrie; mais il 
en est des /or??zes de composition litteraires, comme de la 
variete des races et de la difference primitive des langues. 
Un ouvrage traduit manque de vie ; ce que plait sm-les bords 
du Ellin doit paraitre bizarre sur les bords de la Tamise 
et de la Seine. Mon ouvrage est une production essen- 
tiellement allemande, et ce caractere meme, j'en suis sur, 
loin de m'en plaindre lui donne le gout du terroii'. Je 
jouis d'une bomie fortune a laquelle (a cause de mon 
long sejour en France, de mes predilections personnelles, 
de mes heresies politiques) le Leopard ne m'avait pas 
trop accoutume. Je demande a I'illustre autem- du 
volume sur la Mecanique Celeste d'avou- le courage 
d'aggrandii' sa Geographie Physique. Je suis sur que le 
grand homme que nous aimons le plus, vous et moi. Sir 

Discovery of Nephme. 289 

John Herscliel, serait de mon opinion. Le Monde, je 
me sers du titre que Descartes voulait donner a un livre 
dont nous n'avons que de pauvres fragmens ; le Monde 
doit etre ecritpour les Anglais par un auteur de race pure. 
II n'y a pas de seve, pas de vitalite dans les traductions 
les niieux faites. Ma sante s'est conserve mii-aculeuse- 
ment a I'age de quatre-vingts ans, de mon ardeur pour 
le travail nocturne au milieu des agitations d'une position 
que je n'ai pas besoiti de vous depeindre puisque I'excel- 

lente Mademoiselle de vous I'a fait connaitre. J'ai 

bouleverse, change mes deux volumes des " Ansichten." 
II n'en est reste que C'est conune un nouvel ouvrage 
que j'aurai bientot le bonheur de vous adresser si 
M. Cotta pense pouvoir hasarder une publication dans 
ces terns ou la force phj^sique croit gueru- un mal moral 
et vacciner le contentement a I'Allemagne imitau'e ! ! Le 
troisieme volume de mon Cosmos avance, mais la serenite 
manque aux ames moins credules. 

Agreez, je vous supplie, I'hommage de mon affectueuse 
et respectueuse reconnaissance, 

Alexandre de Humboldt. 

Somerville and I spent the Christmas at Colling- 
wood with our friends the Herschels. The party 
consisted of Mr. Airy, Astronomer-Koyal, and Mr. 
Adams, who had taken high honours at Cambridge. 
This young man and M. Leverrier, the celebrated 
French astronomer, had separately calculated the 
orbit of Neptune and announced it so nearly at the 



Mary SomerviLle. 

same time, that each country claims the honour of 
the discovery. Mr. Adams told Somerville that the 
following sentence in the sixth edition of the " Con- 
nexion of the Physical Sciences/' published in the year 
1842, put it into his head to calculate the orbit of 
Neptune. "If after the lapse of years the tables 
formed from a combination of numerous observa- 
tions should be still inadequate to represent the 
motions of Uranus, the discrepancies may reveal 
the existence, nay, even the mass and orbit of a 
body placed for ever beyond the sphere of vision." 
That prediction was fulfilled in 1846, by the dis- 
covery of Neptune revolving at the distance of 
3,000,000,000 of miles from the sun. The mass of 
Neptune, the size and position of his orbit in space, 
and his periodic time, were determined from his dis- 
turbing action on Uranus before the planet itself had 
been seen. 

We left Collingwood as ever with regret. 

[The following is an extract from a letter written by my 
mother dm'ing this visit : — 


COLLINGWOOD, ls< January, 1848. 

. . . . You can more easily conceive than I can 
describe the great kindness and affection which we have 
received from both Sir John and Lady Herschel ; I feel 



a pride and pleasiu-e beyond what I can express in having 
such Mends. CoUingwood is a house by itself in the 
world, there certainly is nothing like it for all that is 
great and good. The charm of the conversation is only 
equalled by its variety — every subject Sii' John touches 
tiu-ns to doubly refined gold ; profoiuid, brilliant, amiable, 
and highly poetical, I could never end admiring and 
praising him. Then the children are so nice and he so 
kind and amusing to them, making them quite his friends 
and companions. 

Yom's, my dearest Woronzow, 

Most affectionately, 


We had formed such a friendship with. Mr. Fara- 
day that while we lived abroad lie sent me a copy 
of everything lie published, and on returning to 
England we renewed our friendship with that illus- 
trious philosopher, and attended his lectures at the 
Eoyal Institution. He had abeady magnetized a 
ray of polarised light, but was still lecturing on the 
magnetic and diamagnetic properties of matter. At 
the last lecture we attended he showed the diamag- 
netism of flame, which had been proved by a foreign 
philosopher. Mr. Faraday never would accept of 
any honour ; he lived in a circle of friends to whom 
he was deeply attached. A touching and beautiful 
memoir was published of him by his friend and 

u 2 


Mary Somerville. 

successor, Professor Tyndall, an experimental phi- 
losopher of the very highest genius. 

[The foUowmg letter was the last my mother received 
from Farada}' : — 


Royal Institution, \Wi January, 1859. 
My dear Mrs. Somerville, 

So you have remembered me again, and I 
have the dehght of receiving from j'ou a new copj-^ of 
that work which has so often instructed me; and 
I may well say, cheered me in my simijle homely com'se 
through life in this house. It was most land to thuik 
of me ; but ah ! how sweet it is to behave that I have 
your approval in matters where kindness would be 
notliing, where judgment alone must rule. I almost 
doubt myself when I think I have yom* approbation, 
to some degree at least, in what I may have thought 
or said about gravitation, the forces of natm'e, then* 
conservation, &c. As it is, I cannot go back from tliese 
thoughts; on the contrary-, I feel encouraged to go on 
by way of experiment, but am not so able as I was 
formerly; for when I try to hold the necessary group 
of thoughts in mmd at one time, with the judgment 
suspended on ahnost all of them, then my head becomes 
giddy, and I am obhged to lay aU aside for a while. 
I am trying for time in magnetic action, and do not 
despair of reaching it, even though it may be only that 
of Hght. Nous verrons. 

I have been putting into one volume various papers 


Faraday s Letter. 


•of mine on experimental branches in chemistry and. 
physics. The index and title-page has gone to the 
printer, and I expect soon to receive copies from him. 
I shall ask Mr. Murray to help me in sending one to 
you which I hope you will honovir by acceptance. There 
is nothing new in it, except a few additional pages about 
" reg elation," and. also "gravity." It is useful to get 
one's scattered papers together with an index, and 
society seems to Hive the collection sufBiciently to pay 

the expenses Pray remember me most Idndly 

to all with whom I may take that privilege, and believe 
me to be most truly. 

Your admirer and 

faithful servant, 
M. Fabaday. 

[My mother wrote of this letter : — 

Florence, StJt Fehmary, 1859. 

. . . . I have had the most charming and 
gratifyirig letter from Faraday ; I cannot tell you 
how I value such a mark of approbation and friend- 
ship from the greatest experimental philosopher and 
discoverer next to Newton. 

AVe retm-ned to the continent in autumn, so I 
could not superintend the publication of my "Phy- 
sical Geography/' but Mr. Pentland kindly undertook 
to carry it through the press. Though I never was 
personally acquainted with Mr. Keith Johnston, of 


Mary Somervitlc. 

Edinburgh, that eminent geographer gave me copies 
of both the first and second editions of his splendid 
" Atlas of Physical Geography," which were of the 
greatest use to me. Besides, he published some time 
afterwards a small " School Atlas of Ancient, Modern, 
and Physical Geography," intended to accompanymy 
work ; obligations which I gratefully acknowledge. 
No one has attempted to copy my " Connexion of 
the Physical Sciences," the subjects are too difficult ; 
but soon after the publication of the "Physical 
Geography " a number of cheap books appeared, just 
keeping within the letter of the law, on which ac- 
count it has only gone through five editions. How- 
ever a sixth is now required. 

The moment was unfavourable for going into 
Italy, as war was raging between Charles Albert and 
the Austrians, so we resolved to remain at Munich, 
and wait the course of events. We got a very pretty 
little apartment, well furnished with stoves, and op- 
posite the house of the Marchese Fabio Pallavicini, 
formerly Sai^dinian minister at Munich. We spent 
most of our evenings ver)^ pleasantly at their house. 
We attended the concerts at the Odeon of classical 
music : the execution was perfect, but the music 
was so refined and profound that it passed my com- 
prehension, and I thought it tedious. The hours at 



Municli were so early that the opera ended ahnost at 
the time it began in London. 

In the spring we went to Salzburg, where we re- 
mained all summer. We had an apartment in a 
dilapidated old chateau, about an hour's walk from 
the town, called Leopold's Krone. The pictm-esque 
situation of the town reminded me of the Castle and 
Old Town of Edinburgh. The view from our windows 
was alpine, and the trees bordering the roads were 
such as I have rarely seen out of England. We made 
many excursions to Berchtesgaden, where King 
Louis and his cornet were then living, and went to 
the upper end of the Konigsee. I have repeatedly 
been at sea in very stormy weather without the 
smallest idea of fear ; but the black, deep water of 
this lake, under the shadow of the precipitous 
mountains, made a disagreeable impression on me. 
I thought if I were to be drowned I should prefer 
the blue sea to that cold, black pool. The flora 
was lovely, and on retm^ning from our expeditions 
in the evening, the damp, mossy banks were 
luminous with glowworms : I never saw so many, 
either before or since. We never fail to make ac- 
quaintances wherever we go, and our friends at 
Munich had given us letters to various people who 
were passing the summer there, many of whom 
had evening receptions once a week. At the 


Mary Somerville. 

Countess Irene Arco's beautiful Gothic chateau of 
Anif, which rises out of a small pellucid lake, and 
is reached by a bridge, we spent many pleasant 
evenings, as well as at Countess Bellegarde's, and at 
Aigen, which belonged to the Cardinal Schwartzen- 
berg. We never saw him, but went to visit his 
niece, with whom we were intimate. 

The war being over, we went by Innsbruck 
and the Brenner to Colk, on the Lago di Carda, 
within five miles of Peschiera, where we sjDent a 
month with Count and Countess Erizzo Minis- 
calchi, who had been our intimate friends for 
many years. The devastation of the country 
was frightful. Peschiera and its fortifications 
were in ruins ; the villages around had been 
burnt down, and the wretched inhabitants were 
beginning to repair their roofless houses. Our 
friends themselves had but recently retm-ned to 
Colk, which, from its commanding situation, was 
always the head-quarters of whatever army was 
in possession of the country around. On this 
account, the family had to fly more than once at 
the approach of the enemy. In 1848 the Countess 
had fled to Milan, and was confined at the very 
time the Austrian s under Eadetsky were besieging 
the town, which was defended by Charles Albert. 
Fearing what might occur when the city was sur- 

Coimtess Bon-Breiizoni. 297 

rendered, the lady, together with her new-bom 
infant and the rest of her family, escaped the next 
day with considerable difficulty, and travelled to 

Although not acquainted with quite so many lan- 
auao-es as Mezzofanti, Count Miniscalchi is a remark- 
able linguist, especially Avith regard to Arabic and 
other oriental tono-ues. He has availed himself of his 
talent, and pubhshed several works, the most interest- 
ing of which is a translation of the Gospel of St. 
John fi-om Syro-Chaldaic (the language probably 
spoken by our Saviour) into Latin. The manuscript, 
from which this translation is made, is preserved in 
the Vatican. 

[While we were at Cola my mother received a visit 
from a very distinguished and gifted lady, the Countess 
Bon-Brenzoni. As an instance of the feelings enter- 
tained by an ItaHan woman towards my mother, I insei-t 
a letter written hy tlie Countess some time afterwards, 
and also an extract from her poems : — 


Veeona, 28 Maggio, 1853. 

Illustre Signora, 

Fui molto contenta udendo che finahnente le sia 
giimto r involto contenente le copie stampate del Carme, 


Mary Somerville. 

cli' ebbi r onore cli poterle offerke, mentre io era in gran 
pensiero non forse fossero insorte difficolta, o ritarcli, 
in causa della posta. Ma, ben piu che per qiiesto la 
sua graziosissima lettera mi fu cli vera consolazione, per 
r accoglienza tutta benevola e generosa cb' Ella face 
a' miei versi. La ringrazio clelle ]parole piene di bonta 
cb' Ella mi scrive, e di aversi j)reso la gentil cui-a di 
farlo in italiano ; cosi potess' io ricambiarla scrivendo a 
Lei in inglese ! Piu" mi conforta la certezza cbe il 
linguaggio delle anime sia uno solo ; mentre io non so 
s' io debba cbiamar presunzione, o ispu-azione questa, cbe 
mi fa ci'edere, cbe esista fra la sua e la mia una 
qualclie intelligenza, e quantunque i suoi meriti e la 
sua bonta me ne spiegliino in gran parte il mistero, 
pure trovo essere cosa non comune questo pensiero, 
cbe al mio cuore parla di Lei incessantemente, da 
quel giorno cb' io 1' bo veduta per la prima e 1' unica 
volta ! 

Ah se e vero cbe fra i sentimenti di compiacenza 
cb' Ella provo per gli elogi ottenuti de' suoi lavori, abbia 
saputo trovar luogo fra i piu cari quello cbe le desto 
neU' animo 1' espressione viva e sincera della mia ammi- 
razione e del mio umile aifetto, io raggiunsi un punto 
a cui certo non avea osato aspirare ! 

II trovarmi con Lei a Cola, od altrove cbe fosse, 
e uno de' miei piu cari desideri, e son lieta delle sue 
parole cbe me ne danno qualcbe speranza. 

Vogba presentare i miei distinti doveri all' eccelente 
suo Sig'''^ marito ed alle amabili figlie; e mentre 
io le prego da Dio le piu desiderabUi benedizioni, 
Ella si ricordi di me siccome di una persona, 
cbe sebbene lontana fisicamente, le e sempre vicina 

"/ Cielir 


coll' animo, nei sentimenti della piu affetuosa venera- 

Incoraggiata dalla sua bonta, mi onoro segnarmi 
arnica afFezionatissima 

Caterina Bon-Brenzoni. 

The "Carme" spoken of in the above letter form a 
long poem on modern astronomy, entitled " I Cieli," 
(published by Vallardi. Milan: 1853). The opening 
lines contain the following address to Mrs. SomerviUe, — 
doubtless a genuine description of the author's feelings 
on first meeting the simple -mannered lady whose intel- 
lectual gi'eatness she had long learned to appreciate : — 

Donna, quel giomo ch' io ti vidi in prima, 
Dimmi, hai Tu scorto sul mio volto i segni 
Dell' anima commossa ? — Hai Tu veduto 
Come treijida innanzi io ti venia, 
E come reverenza e maraviglia 
Tenean sospesa sull' indocil labbro 
La parola mal certa ? — Ah ! dimmi, hai scorto 
Come fur vinte dall' affetto allora 
Che t'vidii f avellar soave e plana, 
Coll' angelica voce e 1' umiltade, 
Che a' suoi piu cari sai)'ienza insegna ? — 
Questa, io dicea tra me, questa e Colei, 
Di che le mille volte udito ho il nome 
Venerato suonar tra i pii f amosi ? 
Questa h Colei che negli eterei spazj 
Segue il cammin degli astri, e ne misura 
Peso, moto, distanza, orbita e luce ? 
* * * * 

Another record of our visit to Cola is in a letter of my 
mother to my brother. 


Mary Somerville. 


TUEIN, Ml Dec, 1849. 

My dearest Woronzow, 

We arrived here all well the clay before yester- 
day, after a fair but bitterly cold journey, bright sun- 
shine and keen frost, and to-day we have a fall of snow. 

It was a g]-eat disappointment not finding letters 

here, and I feai- many have been lost on both sides, 
though we took care not to touch on political events, as 
all letters are opened by the Austrian poKce in Lom- 
bardy. We spent five weeks with our friends the Minis- 
calchis very agi'eeably, and received every mark of 
kindness and hosi)itality. They only Hve at Verona 
during the winter, and we found theai in theii* country 
house at Cola situated on a height overlooking the 
Lago di Garda, with the snowy Alps on the opi)osite 
side of the lake. The view from their grounds is so fine 
that I was tempted to paint once more. They took us 
to see all the places in the neighbom-hood; often a sad 
sight, from havuig been the seat of Avar and siege. The 
villages are bui'nt and the churches in ruin. But the 
people are repairing the mischief as fast as possible, and 
the fields are akead}^ well cultivated. The Count is a man 
of gi'eat learning and is occu2)ied in the comparison of 
languages, especially the Eastern ; he knows twenty-four 
and speaks Ai'abic as fluently as Italian. He is in the 
habit of speaking both Arabic and Chaldee every Asc^j, 
as there is a most learned Chaldean priest living with 
them, whose conversation gave me great pleasm-e and 
much information. The Count has moreover a black 
seiTant who speaks these languages, havhig been bought 

Baron Plana. 


by the Count climng liis long residence in the East, and 
is now treated like one of the family. I obtamed much 
information which will be useful in my next edition of 

the Physical GeogTaphy 

Your affectionate mother, 

Maey Somerville. 

[After my mother's death, our old friend Count Minis- 
calchi made a beautiful and toucliing " eloge " on her 
at a meetmg of the Koyal Italian Geographical Society, 
to a numerous audience assembled in the great hall of 
the CoUegio Eomano at Rome. 

My mother was an honorarj' member of this Society, 
besides which the first gold medal granted by them was 
voted by acclamation to her. Her Recollections con- 
tinue as follows : — 

From Cola we went to Turin, where I became 
personally acquainted with Baron Plana, Director 
of the Observatory. He had married a niece of the 
illustrions mathematician La Grange, who proved 
the stability of the solar system. Plana, himself, 
was a very great analyst ; his volume on the Lunar 
Perturbations is a work of enormous labour. He 
gave me a copy of it and of all his works ; for I 
continued to have friendly intercourse with him as 
long as he lived. As soon as he heard of our arrival, 
he came to take us out to drive. I never shall 
forget the beauty of the Alps, and the broad valley 


Mary Somerville. 

of the Po and Dora, deeply covered with snow, and 
sparkling in bright sunshine. Another day the 
Baron took us to a church, from the cupola of which 
a very long pendulum was swinging, that we might 
see the rotation of the earth visibly proved by its 
action on the pendulum, according to M. Foucault's 
experiment. He devoted his time to get us esta- 
blished, and we found a handsome apartment in 
Casa Cavour, and became acquainted with both 
the brothers to whom it belonged. Count Camillo 
Cavour, then Minister of the Interior, was the 
only great statesman Italy ever produced in modern 
times. His premature death is deplorably felt 
at the present day. He was a real genius, and 
the most masterly act of his administration was 
that of sending an army to act in concert with the 
French and Enghsh in the Crimean war. By it 
he at once gave Italy the rank of an independent 
European power, which was the first step towards 
Italian unity. He was delightful and cheerful in 
society, and extremely beloved by his family and 

In spring we hired a villa on the Collinc 
above Turin. The house was in a garden, with 
a terrace, whence the ground sanlc rapidly to 
the plain ; low hills, clothed with chestnut 

An Atmospheric Pheiwmenon. 303 

forests, abounding in lilies of the valley, sur- 
rounded us behind. The summer had been stormy, 
and one evening we walked on the terrace to look 
at the lightning, which was very fine, illuminating 
the chain of Alps. By-and-by it ceased, and the 
darkness was intense ; but we continued to walk, 
when, to our surprise, a pale bluish light rose in the 
Val di Susa, which gradually spread along the 
summit of the Alps, and the tops of the hills behind 
our house ; then a colunm of the same pale blue 
light, actually within our reach, came curling up 
from the slope close to the terrace, exactly as if wet 
weeds had been burning. In about ten minutes the 
whole vanished ; but in less than a quarter of an 
hour the phenomena were repeated exactly as de- 
scribed, and were followed by a dark night and 
torrents of rain. It was a very unusual instance of 
what is known as electric glow ; that is, electricity 
without tension. 

On our road to Genoa, we went to see some kind 
Piedmontese friends, who have a chateau in the 
Monferrat, not many miles from Asti, where we left 
the railroad. We had not gone many miles when 
the carriage we had hired was upset, and, although 
nobody had broken bones, I got so severe a blow on 
my forehead that I was confined to bed for nearly a 
month, and my face was black and blue for a much 


Mary Somerville. 

longer time. Nothing could equal the unwearied 
kindness of our friends during my illness. 

When I was able to travel, we went to Genoa for 
the winter, and lived on the second floor of a large 
house on the Acqua Sola, and o"\'er] coking the sea. 
Here first began our friendship with the Marchesa 
Teresa Doria, whose maiden name was Durazzo ; in 
her youth one of the handsomest women in Genoa, 
a lady distinguished for her generous character and 
cultivated mind, and who fearlessly avowed her 
opinions at a time when it was a kind of disgTace to 
be called a Liberal. Her youngest sou, Giacomo, 
has devoted his life to the study of natural history, 
and his mother used all her influence to encourage 
and help him in a pursuit so unusual amongst 
people of rank in this country. Later, he travelled 
in Persia for two years, to make collections, and 
since then resided for a long time in Borneo, and is 
now arranging a museum in his native city. The 
Marchesa has always been a warm and devoted 
friend to me and mine. 

It was here that we got om' dear old parrot Lory, 
who is still alive and merry. 


Our next move was to Florence, where we already 
knew many people. We had a lease of a house in 
Via del Mandorlo, which had a small garden and a 



iDalcony, where we often sat and received iu tlie 
warm summer evenings. My daughters had adorned 
it and the garden with rare creepers, sln^ubs, and 

We had a visit from our friend Gibson, as he 
passed through Florence on his way to Switzerland. 
He told us the history of his early life, as given in 
his biography, and much that is not mentioned there. 
He was devotedly attached to the Queen, and spoke 
of her in his simple manner as a charming lady. 

Miss Hosmer was travelling with Gibson, an 
American young lady, who was his pupil, and 
of whose works he was very proud. He looked 
upon her as if she had been his daughter, and 
she took care of him ; for he was careless and 
forcretful when travellino-. I have the sincerest 
pleasure in expressing my admiration for Miss 
Hosmer, who has proved loy her works that our 
sex possesses both genius and originality in the 
highest branches of art. 

It was at Florence that I first met my dear friend 
and constant correspondent, Frances Power Cobbe. 
She is the cleverest and most agreeable woman I 
ever met with, and one of the best. There is a dis- 
tant connection between us, as one of her ancestors 
married a niece of Lord Fairfax, the Parliamentary 
general, many of whose letters are in the posses- 



Mary Somerville. 

sion of her family. A German professor of physio- 
logy at Florence roused public indignation by his 
barbarous vivisections, and there was a canvass 
for a Memorial against this cruel practice. Miss 
Cobbe took a leading part in this movement, and I 
heartily joined, and wrote to all my acquaintances, 
requesting their votes ; among others, to a certain 
Marchese, who had published something on agricul- 
ture. He refused his vote, saying, " Perhaps I was 
not aware that the present state of science was one 
of induction." Then he went on explaining to me what 
"induction" meant, &c., &c., which amused me not a 
little. It made my family very indignant, as they 
thought it eminently presumptuous, addressed to me 
by a man who, though a good patriot and agricul- 
turist, knew nothing whatever about science, past or 
present. A good deal of political party spirit was 
brought into play in this instance, as is too often the 
case here. It is not complimentary to the state of 
civilisation in Italy, that in Russia and Poland, both 
of them very far behind her in many respects, there 
should exist societies for the prevention of crueltj- to 
animals, to which all the most distinguished people 
have given their names. 

[I rejoice to say that this staiii on Italian civilisation 
is now wipecl away. My mother just lived to hail the 
formation of the Societa Protettrice degli Animah. — Ed. 

La Venna. 


In summer we sometimes made excursions to avoid 
the heat of Florence. One year we went to Valom- 
brosa and the convents of La Vernia, and Camaldoli, 
which are now suppressed. We travelled on mules 
or ponies, as the mountain paths are impracticable 
to carriages. I was disappointed in Valombrosa itself, 
but the road to it is beautiful. La Vernia is highly 
picturesque, there we remainedtwo days, which I spent 
in drawing. The trees round the convent formed a 
striking contrast to the arid cliffs we had passed on 
the road. The monks were naturally delighted to 
see strangers. They belonged to the order of St. 
Francis, and each in his turn wandered over the 
country begging and living on the industry of others. 
We did not pay for our food and lodging, but left 
much more than an equivalent in the poor-box. 
Somerville slept in the convent, and Ave ladies were 
lodged in the so-called Foresteria outside ; but even 
Somerville was not admitted into the clausura at 
Camaldoli, for the monks make a vow of perpetual 
silence and solitude. Each had his little separate 
hut and garden, and some distance above the con- 
vent, on the slopes of the Apennines, they had an 
establishment called the Eremo, for those who sought 
for even greater solitude. The people told us that 
in winter, when deep snow covers the whole place, 
wolves are often seen prowling about. Not far from 


Mary SomervilLe. 

the Eremo tliere is a place from wlience lootli tlie 

Mediterranean and tlie Adriatic can be seen. 

We occasionally went for sea-bathing to Viareggio, 

which is built on a flat sandy beach. The loose 

sand is drifted by the wind into low hillocks, and 

bound together by coarse grass thicldy coated with 

silex. Among this and other plants a lovely white 

amaryllis, the Pancratium Marati7num,y^it]i a sweet 

and powerful perfume, springs up. We often tried 

to get the bulb, but it lay too deep under the sand. 

One evening we had gone a long way in search of 

these flowers, and sat down to rest, though it was 

beginning to be dark. We had not sat many 

minutes when we were surrounded by a number of 

what we supposed to be bats trying to get at the 

flowers we had gathered, but at length we discovered 

that they were enormous moths, which followed us 

home, and actually flew into the room to soar over 

the flowers and suck the honey with their long 

probosces. They were beautiful creatures with large 

red eyes on their wings. 

* * . * * * 

Our life at Florence went on pretty much as usual 
when all at once cholera broke out of the most viru- 
lent kind. Multitudes fled from Florence ; often in 
vain, for it prevailed all through Tuscany to a great 
extent. The terrified people were kneeling to the 

The Cholera. 


Madonna and making processions, after which it 
was remarked that the nmnber of cases was in- 
variably increased. The Misericordia went about 
in their fearful costume, indefatigable in carrying 
the sick to the hospitals. The devotion of that 
society was beyond all praise ; the young and the 
old, the artisan and the nobleman, went night and 
day in detachments carrying aid to the sufferers, not 
in Florence only, but to Fiesole and the villages 
round. We never were afraid, but we consulted 
Professor Zanetti, our medical adviser, whether we 
should leave the town, which we were unwilling to 
do, as we thoug-ht we should be far from medical 
assistance, and he said, " By no means ; live as 
usual, drive out as you have always done, and make 
not the smallest change." We followed his advice, 
and drove out every afternoon till near dark, and 
then passed the rest of the evening with those friends 
who, like ourselves, had remained in town. None of 
us took the disease except one of our servants, who 
recovered from instant help being given. 

The Marquis of Normanby was British minister 
at that time, and Lady Normanby and he were 
always kind and hospitable to us. At her house we 
became acquainted with Signora Barbieri-Nini, the 
celebrated opera-singer, who had retired from the 
stage, and lived with her husband, a Sienese gentle- 


Mary Soine7^ville. 

man, in a villa not far from Villa Normanby. Slie 
gave a musical party, to Avliicli slie invited us. The 
music, wliicli was entirely artistic, was excellent, 
the entertainment very handsome, and it was alto- 
gether very enjoyable. As we were driving home 
afterwards, late at night, going down the hill, our 
carriage ran against one of the dead carts which was 
carrying those who had died that day to the burying- 
ground at Trespiano. It was horribly ghastly — one 
could distinguish the forms of the limbs under the 
canvas thrown over the heap of dead. The burial 
of the poor and rich in Italy is in singular contrast ; 
the poor are thrown into the grave without a cofi&n, 
the rich are placed in coffins, and in full dress, 
which, especially in the case of youth and infancy, 
leaves a pleasant impression. An intimate friend of 
ours lost an infant, and asked me to go and see it 
laid out. The coffin, lined with white silk, was on 
a table, covered with a white cloth, strewed with 
flowers, and with a row of wax lights on either side. 
The baby was clothed in a white satin frock, lea^dng 
the neck and arms bare ; a rose-bud was in each 
hand, and a wreath of rose-buds surrounded the 
head, which rested on a pillow. Nothing could be 
prettier ; it was like a sleeping angel. 

Pio Nono had lost his popularity before he came 



to visit the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The people re- 
ceived him respectfully, but without enthusiasm ; 
nevertheless, Florence was illuminated in his honour. 
The Duomo, Campanile, and the old tower in the 
Piazza dei Signori were very fine, but the Lung' 
Arno was beautiful beyond description; the river was 
full, and reflected the whole with dazzling splendour. 

I made the acquaintance of Signore Donati, after- 
wards celebrated for the discovery of one of the 
most brilliant comets of this centmy, whose course 
and changes I watched with the greatest interest. 
On one occasion I was accompanied by my valued 
friend Sir Henry Holland, who had come to Florence 
during one of his annual journeys. I had much 
pleasure in seeing him again. 

Political parties ran very high in Florence ; we 
sympathised with the Liberals, living on intimiite 
terms with the chief of them. As soon as the proba- 
bility of war between Piedmont and Austria became 
known, many young men of every rank, some even 
of the highest families, hastened to join as volun- 
teers. The most sanguine long hoped that the Grand 
Duke might remember that he was an Italian prince 
rather than an Austrian archduke, and would send 
his troops to join the Italian cause ; but his dynasty 
was doomed, and he blindly chose the losing side. 
At last the Austrians crossed the Mincio, and the 


Mary Somerville. 

war fairly broke out, France coming to tlic assistance 
of Piedmont. The enthusiasm of the Tuscans could 
then no longer be restrained, and on the 27th April 
1859, crowds of people assembled on the Piazza 
deir Indipendenza., and raised the tri-coloured flag. 
The government, who, the day before, had warning of 
what was impending, had sent sealed orders to the 
forts of Belvedere and del Basso, which, when 
opened on the eventful morning, were found to con- 
tain orders for the bombardment of the town. This 
the officers refused to do, after which the troops 
joined the popular cause. When this order became 
generally known, as it soon did, it jDroved the last 
blow to the dynasty, although the most eminent and 
respected Liberals used their best efibrts during the 
whole of the 27th to restore harmony between the 
Grand Duke and the people. They advised his im- 
mediate abdication in favour of his son, the Archduke 
Ferdinand, the proclamation of the Constitution, and 
of course insisted on the immediate alliance with 
Piedmont as their principal condition. It was already 
too late ! All was of no avail, and in the evening, 
whilst we were as usual at the Cascine, the whole 
Imperial family, accompanied by the Austrian 
minister, and escorted by several of the Corps Diplo- 
matique, drove round the walls from Palazzo Pitti to 
Porta San Gallo unmolested amid a silent crowd, and 



crossing the frontier on tlie Bologna road, bade fare- 
well for ever to Tuscany. The obnoxious ministers 
were also permitted to retire unnoticed to their 
country houses. 

Thus ended this bloodless revolution ; there 
was no disorder of any kind, which was due to the 
young men belonging to the principal families of 
Florence, such as Corsini, Incontri, Farinola, and 
others, using their influence with the people to calm 
and direct them. Indeed, so quiet was everything 
that my daughters walked about the streets, as did 
most ladies, to see what was going on ; the only 
visible signs of the revolution throughout the whole 
day were bands of young men with tri-colom^ed 
flags and cockades shouting national songs at the top 
of their voices. As I have said already, we took 
our usual drive to the Cascine after dinner, and went 
to the theatre in the evening ; the streets were per- 
fectly quiet, and next morning the people were at 
work as usual. Sir James Scarlett was our minister, 
and had a reception the evening after these events, 
where we heard many predictions of evil which 
never were fulfilled. The least of these was the 
occupation of Florence by a victorious Austrian army. 
The Tuscan archdukes precluded all chance of a 
restoration by joining the Austrian army, and being- 
present at the battle of Solferino. At Florence a 


Mary Somerviite. 

provisional government was formed with Bettino 
Ricasoli at its head ; a parliament assembled three 
times in the Sala dei Cinquecento, in the Palazzo 
Vecchio, and voted with unanimity the ex^^ulsion of 
the House of Lorraine, and the annexation of 
Tuscany to the kingdom of Italy. In the meantime 
the French and Italian arms were victorious in 
Lombardy. As, however, it is not my intention to 
give an historical account of the revolution of 1859, 
but merely to jot down such circumstances as came 
under my own immediate notice, I shall not enter 
into any particulars regarding the well-known 
campaign which ended in the cession of Milan and 
Lombardy to Italy. 

We were keenly interested in the alliance between 
the Emperor Napoleon and the King of Italy, in 
hopes the Quadrilateral would be taken, and Venice 
added to the Italian States. We had a map of 
Northern Italy spread on a table, and from day to 
day we marked the positions of the different head- 
quarters with colom^ed-headed pins. I can hardl}^ 
describe our indignation Avhen aU at once peace was 
signed at Villafranca, and Napoleon received Nice 
and Savoy in recompense for his aid, which were 
given up to him without regard to the will of the 
people. When the peace was announced in Tuscany 
it caused great consternation and disgust ; the people 

Ricasoli. 315 

were in the greatest excitement, fearing tliat tliose 
mlers so obnoxious to tliem miglit by this treaty be 
again forced upon them ; and it required the firm 
hand of Eicasoli to calm the people, and induce the 
King to accept the annexation which had been voted 
without one dissentient voice. 

Baron Eicasoli had naturally many enemies 
amongst the Codini, or retrograde party. Hand- 
grenades were thrown against the door of his house, 
as also at those of other ministers, but without doing 
harm. One evening my daughters were dressing to 
go to a ball that was to take place at the Palazzo 
deUe Crocelle, close to us, in a street parallel to 
ours, when we were startled by a loud explosion. 
An attempt had been made to throw a shell into the 
ball-room, which had happily failed. The streets 
were immediately lined Avith soldiers, and the ball, 
which was given by the Ministers, as far as I recol- 
lect, took place. 

When the war broke out, a large body of French 
troops, commanded \ij Prince Jerome Napoleon, 
came to Florence, and were bivouacked in the 
Cascine. The people in the streets welcomed them 
as deliverers from the Austrians, whose occupation 
of Tuscany, when first we came to reside in Florence, 
was such a bitter mortification to them, and one of 
the causes of the unpopularity of the Grand Duke, 


Mary Somervillc. 

"wliom they never forgave for calling in the Austrian 
troops after 1848. The French camp was a very 
pretty sight ; some of the soldiers playing at games, 
some mending their clothes, or else cooking. They 
were not very particular as to what they ate, for one 
of my daughters saw a soldier skin a rat and put it 
into his soup-kettle. 

We were invited by the Marchesa Lajatico, with 
whom we were very intimate, to go and see the 
entry of Victor Emmanuel into Florence from the 
balcony of the Casa Corsini in the Piazza del Prato, 
where she resides. The Kino; was received with 
acclamation : never was anything like the enthu- 
siasm. Flowers were showered down from eveiy 
window, and the streets were decorated with a taste 
peculiar to the Italians. 

[I think the following extracts from letters -written bj^ 
my mother durmg the year 1859 and the following, ever 
memorable in Italian history, may not be unwelcome to 
the reader. My mother took the keenest interest in all 
that occurred. Owing to the liberal opinions she had 
held from her youth, and to which she Avas ever constant, 
all her sympathies were with the Itahan cause, and she 
rejoiced at every step which tended to unite all Italy in 
one Idngdom. She lived to see this great revolution 
accomiplished by the entry of Victor Emmanuel into 
Eome as King of Italy; a consummation beUeved by 
most politicians to be a wild dream of poets and hot- 
headed patriots, but now realised and accepted as a 

Letter to Mr. Greig. 


matter of coiu'se. IMj' motlier had alwaj'S firm faith 
in this result, and it was with iuexpressihle pleasure 
she watched its completion. Our intimacy with the lead- 
ing jDoliticians hotli in Tuscanj^ and Piedmont naturally 
added to our interest. Eicasoh, Menabrea, Peruzzi, 
Minghetti, &c., we knew intimatel}^, as well as Camillo 
Cavour, the greatest statesman Italj^ ever produced. No 
one who did not witness it can imagine the grief and con- 
sternation his death occasioned, and of which my mother 
writes in a letter dated June 19th, 1861. 


Florence, May Wi, 1859. 

My dearest W., 

Your letter of the 28th would have made me 
laugh heartily were we not annoj'ed that you should 
have suffered' such uneasiness on our accoiuit ; the panic 
in England is ridiculous and most unfounded. The 
whole affair has been conducted with perfect uuanimit}^ 
and tranquillity, so that there has been no one to fight 
with. The Austrians are concentrated in Lombard}'-, 
and not in Tuscany, nor is there any one thing to 
disturb the perfect peace and quietness which prevail 
over the whole country; not a soul thinks of leaving 
Florence. You do the greatest mjustice to the Tuscans. 
From fii'st to last not a person has been insulted, not a 
cry raised against anyone ; even the obnoxious ministers 
were allowed to go to their country houses without a 
word of insult, and troops were sent with the Grand 
Duke to escort him and his family to the frontier. 
Martha and Mary went all through the town the morning 
of the revolution, which was exactly like a common festa, 


Mary Somerville. 

and we found the tranquillity as great when we drove 
through the streets in the afternoon. The same quiet still 
prevails, the people are at their usual einj)loyments, the 
theatres and private receptions go on as usual, and the 
provisional government is excellent. Everyone knew of 
the revolution long before it took place and the quiet- 
ness with which it was to be conducted. I am grieved 
at the tone of English politics, and trust, for the honour 
of the country and humanity, that we do not intend to 
make war u^jon France and Sardinia. It would be a 
disgrace and everlasting stigma to make a crusade 
against the oppressed, being ourselves free. The people 
here have behaved splendidly'-, and we rejoice that we 
have been here to witness such noble conduct. No 
nation ever made such progress as the Tuscans have 
done since the year '48. Not a word of republicanism, it 
has never been named. All they want is a constitutional 
government, and this they are quietty settling 


Floeence, 2Wi May, 1S59. 

Everything is perfectly quiet here; 

the Tuscans are giving money liberallj'^ for canying on 
the war. We have bought quantities of old linen, and 
your sisters and I spend the day in mailing lint and 
bandages for the wounded soldiers ; great quantities have 
already been sent to Piedmont. Hitherto the war has 
been favom-able to the allied army. God grant that 
England may not enter into the contest till the Austrians 
are driven out of Italy ! After that point has been gained. 

Pre-historic Races. 


our honour would be safe. To take part with the 
oppressors and maintain despotism in Italy would be in- 
famous. Tuscany is to be occupied by a large body of 
troops under the command of Prince Napoleon. A great 
many are already encamped on the meadows at the 
Cascine — fine, spirited, merry young men ; many of 
them have the Victoria medal. They are a thorough 
protection against any attack by the Austrians, of which, 
however, there is little chance, as they have enough to 
do in Lombardy. There is to be a great alfair this 
morning at nine o'clock ; an altar is raised in the middle 
of the camp, and the tricolour (Italian) flag is to be 
blessed amidst salvoes of cannon. Your friend, Bettino 
Eicasoh, is thought by far the most able and states- 
manlike person in Tuscany; he is highly respected. 
Martha and I dined with Mr. Scailett, and met . . . 
who said if the Grand Duke had not been the most 
foolish and obstinately weak man in the world, he might 
still have been on the throne of Tuscany; but that 
now he has made that impossible by going to Vienna and 

allowing his two sons to enter the Austrian army 

We have had a visit from Dr. Fallaier, his two nieces 
and brother. They had been spending the winter in 
Sicily, where he discovered rude implements formed 
by man mixed with the bones of prehistoric animals in a 
cave, so hermetically shut up that not a doubt is left of 
a race of men having lived at a period far anterior to that 
assigned as the origin of mankind. Similar discoveries 
have recently been made elsewhere. Dr. Fallaier had 
travelled much in the Himalayas, and lived two years on 
the great plain of Tibet ; the account he gave me of it 
was most interesting. His brother had spent fifteen 
years in Australia, so the conversation delighted me ; I 


Mary Somerville. 

learnt so mucli that was new. I am glad to hear that 
the Queen has been so kind to my friend Faraday ; it 
seems she has given him an apartment at Hampton 
Court nicely fitted up. She went to see it herself, and 
having consulted scientific men as to the instruments 
that were necessary for his pui'suits, she had a laboratory 
fitted up with them, and made him a present of the whole. 
That is doing things handsomel}^, and no once since 
Newton has deserved it so much. 


Floeence, Wi. June, 1859. 

All is perfectly quiet ; a large bodj' of 

French troops are now in Tuscany, and many more are 
expected probably to make a diversion on this side of the 
Austrian army through Modena ; but nothing is known ; 
the most profound secrecy is maintained as to all military 
movements. Success has hitherto attended the allied 
army, and the greatest bravery has been shown. The 
enthusiasm among the men engaged is excessive, the 
Elng of Sardinia himself the bravest of the brave, but 
exposes himself so much that the people are making 
petitions to him to be more careful. The Zouaves called 
out in the midst of the battle, " Le roi est un Zouave ! " 
Prince Najpoleon keeps very quiet, and avoids shewing 
himself as much as possible. The French troops are 
very fine indeed — j^oung, gay, extremely civil and well 
bred. The secrecy is quite curious ; even the colonels 
of the regiments do not know where they may be snet 
till the order comes : so all is .conjecture The 

Public Affairs. 


young King- of Naples seems to follow the footsteps of 
his father ; I hope in God that we may not protect and 
defend him. How anxious we are to know Avhat the 
House of Commons will do! Let us hope they will take 
the Hberal side ; but the conservative pai-ty seems to be 


Florexce, llncl August, 1859. 

PubUc affairs go on admirably. A 

few weeks ago the elections took place of the members 
of the Tuscan parhament \ni\\ a calm and tranquillity of 
which you have no idea. Every proprietor who pays 
15 pauls of taxes (75 pence) has a vote. There are 180 
members, consisting of the most ancient nobility, the 
richest proprietors, the most distinguished physicians 
and lawyers, and the most respectable merchants. They 
hold theii- meetings in the magnificent hall of the 
Palazzo Vecchio — the Sala Dei Cinquecento. The first 
two or three days were employed in choosing a j)resident 
&c., &c. ; then a day was named to determine the fate of 
the house of Lorraine. I could not go, but Martha went 
with a Tuscan friend. There was no speaking ; the vote 
was by ballot, and each member separately went uj) to a 
table before the president, and silently put his ball into 
a large vase. Two members poured the balls into a tray, 
and on examination, said, " No division is necessary ; 
they are all black," — which was followed by long and 
loud cheering. They have been equally unanimous in the 
Legations in Parma and Modena ; and the wish of the 
people is to form one kingdom of these four states under 



Mary Somcrville. 

an Italian j)rmce, excluding all Austrians for ever. The 
imion is perfect, and the determination quiet but deep 
and unalterable. If the Archdulve is forced upon them, 
it mvist be by armed force, which the French emperor 
will not lilvely permit, after the Ai-chduke was fool 
enough to fight against him at Solferino. All the fom- 
states have unanimously voted union with Piedmont ; 
but they do not expect it to be granted. The destinies of 
Europe are now dependent on the two emperors 


Floeenge, 23?'(Z April, 1860. 

You Avould have had this letter sooner, my dearest 
Woronzow, if I had not been prevented from writing to 

3^ou yesterda}^ evening The weather has been 

atrocious ; deluges of rain night and day, and so cold 
that I have been obliged to lay in a second supply of 
Avood. The only good day, and the only one I have been 
out, was that on which the Idng arrived. It fortunately 
was fine, and the sight was magnificent ; quite worthy of 
so great an historical event. No carriages were allowed 
after the guns fired announcing that the king had left 
Leghorn ; so we should have been ill off, had it not been 
for the kindness of our friend the Mai'cliesa Lajatico, 
who invited us to her balcony, which is now very large, 
as they have built an addition to tlieir house for the 
eldest son and his pretty wife. We were there some 
hours before the Idng arrived ; but as all the Florentine 
society was there, and many of our friends from Turin 
and Genoa, we found it ver}'- agreeable. The house is in 

E^itry of Victor Emmamiel. 323 

the Prato, very near the gate the king was to enter. On 
each side of it stages were raised like steps in an amphi- 
theatre, which were densel}^ crowded, every window 
decorated mth gaily-coloured hangings and the Italian 
flag; the streets were lined with " guardie civiche," and 
b{j,nds of music played from time to time. The people 
shouted " Evviva ! " every time a gun was fu-ed. In the 
midst of this joy, there appeared what resembled a 
funeral procession — about a hundred emigrants foUowuig 
the Venetian, Eoman, and Neapolitan colom-s, all hung 
with black craj)e ; they were warmly applauded, and 
many people shed tears. They went to the railway 
station just without the gate to meet the King, and when 
tliey hailed him as " Re cl'Itcdia ! " he was much affected. 
At last he appeared riding a- fine EngHsh horse. Prince 
Carigiian on one hand and Baron Eicasoli on liis left, 
followed by a numerous " troupe doree " of generals and 
of his suite in gay uniforms and well mounted. The 
King rides well ; so the effect was extremely brilliant. 
Then followed several carriages ; in the first were Count 
Cavom*, Buoncompagni, and the Marchese Bartolommei. 
You cannot form the slightest idea of the excitement ; it 
was a burst of enthusiasm, and the reception of Cavour 
was as warm. "VVe threw a perfect shower of flowers 
over him, which the Marcliesa had provided for the 
occasion ; and her youngest son Cino, a nice lad, went 
himself to present liis bouquet to the King, who seemed 
quite pleased with the boy. I felt so much for Madame 

de Lajatico herself. I said to her how kind I 

thought it in her to open her house ; she burst into tears, 
and said, though she was ui deep affliction, she could not 
be so selfish as not offer her friends the best position 
in Florence for seeing what to many of them was the 

Y 2 


Mary Somerville. 

most important event in their lives, as it was to her even 
in her grief. The true Italian taste appeared to per- 
fection in every street through wliich the procession 
passed to the Duomo, and thence to the Palazzo Pitti. 
Those who saw it declare nothing could suq^ass tlie 
splendour- of the cathedral when illuminated; but that 
we could not see, nor did we see the procession again; it 
was impossible to penetrate the crowd. They say there 

are 40,000 strangers in Florence I was much 

too tu'ed to go out again to see the illuminations and the 
fii-eworks on the Ponte Carraja; your sisters saw it all, 
so I leave them to tell you all about it. The King and 
Prince are terribly early ; they and EicasoU are on horse- 
back by jivQ in the morning ; the King dines at twelve, 
and never touches food afterwards, though he has a 

dinner party of 60 or 80 every daj'^ at six 

Now, my dearest Woronzow, I must end, for I do not 
wish to miss another post. I am really wonderfully well 
for my age. 

Your devoted mother, 

Mary Somerville. 


Flokence, l^tliJunc, 1861. 

Italy has been thrown into the deepest 

affliction by the death of Cavour. In my long life I never 
knew any event whatever which caused so miiversal and 
deep sorrow. There is not a village or town throughout 
the whole peninsula which has not had a funeral service, 
and the very poorest people, who had hardly clothes on 
their backs, had black crape tied round theii- arm or neck. 

Death of Cavoiir. 


It was a state of consternation, and no wonder! Every one 
felt that the greatest and best man of this century has 
been taken away before he had completely emancipated 
his country. All the progress is due to him, and to him 
alone; the revolution has called forth men of much 
talent, yet the whole are immeasurably his inferior in 
every respect — even your friend, EicasoU, who is most 
able, and the best successor that can be found, is, com- 
pared with Cavom-, as Tuscany to Euroj)e. Happily the sad 
loss did not occur sooner. Now things are so far advanced 
that they cannot go back, and I trust that Ricasoli, who is 
not wanting in firmness and moral corn-age, will complete 
what has been so hapj^ily begmi. I am sorry to say he 
is not in ver^y good health, but I trust he will not faU 
into the hands of the j^hysician who attended Cavour, 
and who mistook his disease, reduced him by loss of 
blood, and then finding out his real illness, tried to 
strengthen him when too late. There was a most ex- 
cellent article in the " Times " on the two statesmen. 

[My mother's recollections continue thus : — 

One night the moon shone so bright that we 
sent the carriage away, and walked home from 
a reception at the Marchesa Ginori s. In crossino- 
the Piazza San Marco, an acquaintance, who accom- 
panied us, took us to the Maglio, which is close 
by, to hear an echo. I. like an echo; yet there 
is something so unearthly in the aerial voice, 
that it never fails to raise a superstitious cliill 


Mary Somerville. 

in me, such as I have felt more than once 
as I read " Ossian " while travellino- amono- our 

o o 

Highland hills in my early youth. In one of tlie 

grand passes of the Oberland, when we were in 

Smtzerland, we were enveloped in a mist, through 

which peaks were dimly seen. We stopped to he;ir 

an echo ; the response came clear and distinct from 

a great distance, and I felt as if the Spirit of tli(! 

Mountain had spoken. The impression depends on 

accessory circumstances ; for the roar of a railway 

train passing over a viaduct has no such effect. 
* « * . * * 

I lost my husband in Florence on the 26 th June, 

1860 From the preceding narrative may l)e 

seen the sympathy, affection, and confidence, Avhicli 

always existed between us. .... . 

[After what has already been said of the happiness my 
another enjoyed during the long years of their married 
life, it ma}'' be imagined what grief was her's at my 
father's death after only three days' iQness. My mother's 
dear friend and correspondent, Miss F. P. Cobbe, wrote 
to her as follows on this occasion : — 

" I have just leai-ned from a letter from Cai^tain Fairlax 
to my brother the great affliction wliich has befallen you. 
I cannot express to you how it has grieved me to tliink 
that such a sorrow sliould have fallen on you, and tliat 
the dear, kind old man, whose welcome so often touclied 
and gratified me, sliould have passed away so soon after 

Second Widoiuhood. 


I had seen you botk, as I often tliouglit, tlie most beauti- 
ful instance of united old age. His love and pride in you, 
breaking out as it did at every instant when you happened 
to be absent, gives me the measure of what his loss must 
be to yom' warm heart." 

The following letter from my mother, dated April, 
1861, addi-essed to her sister-in-law, was written after 
reading my grandfather's " Life and Times," the publi- 
cation of which my father did not live to see. 


Florence, 28!;7i. A2ml, 1S6L 

My dear Janet, — 

I received the precious volume* you have so 
kindly sent to me some days ago, but I have delayed 
thanldng you for it till now because we all Avished to 
read it first. We are higlily pleased, and have been 
deeply interested in it. The whole tone of the book 
is characteristic of yom dear father; the benevolence, 
warm-heartedness, and Christian charity which appeared 
in the whole com'se of his life and ministry. That 
which has struck us all most forcibly is the liberality of ' 
his sentiments, both religious and political, at a time 
when narrow views and bigotry made it even dangerous 
to avow them, and it required no small courage to do so. 
He was far in advance of the age in which he lived; 

♦ The Rev. P. Somerville'.s "Life and Times." 


Mary Somerville. 

his political opinions are those of the present Adij, his 
religious opinions still before it. There are many jiarts 
of the book which will please the general reader from 
the graphic description of the manners and customs 
of the time, as well as the narrative of his mter- 
course with many of the eminent men of his daj^ 
Your most dear father's affectionate remembrance of me 
touches iTfie deeply. I have but one regret, dear Jenny, 
and that is that our dear Wniiam did not hve to see 
the accomplishment of Avhat was his dying wish ; but 

God's will be done We are all much as usual : I am 

wonderfully well, and able to write, which I do for a time 
every day. I do not ihxak I feel any difference in caj)acity, 
but I become soon tired, and then I read the news- 
papers, some amusing book, or work. . . . Everything is 
flourishing in Italy, and the people happy and contented, 
except those who were employed and dependent on the 
former sovereigns, but they are few in comparison; and 
now there is a fine army of 200,000 men to defend the 
country, even if Austria should make an attack, but 
that is not likely at present. Eome is still the difficulty, 
but the Pope must and soon will lose his temporal 
power, for the people are determined it shall be so. . . . 
I am, dear sister. 

Most affectionately yours, 

Mary Somerville. 

To Mas. Elliot, of Rosebank, Roxburghshire. 



Soon after my dear husband's death, we went 
to Spezia, as my health required change, and 
for some time we made it our headquarters, 
spending one winter at Florence, another at Genoa, 
where my son and his wife came to meet 
us, and where I had very great delight in the 
beautiful singing of our old friend Clara NoveUo, 
now Countess Gighucci, who used to come to my 
house, and sing Handel to me. It was a real 
pleasure, and her voice was as pure and silvery 
as when I first heard her, years before. Another 
winter we spent at Turin. On returning to Spezia 
in the summer of 1861, the beautiful comet visible 


Mary Sovicrville. 

that year ajjpearcd for the first time the very 
evening we arrived. On the follo^ving, and during 
many evenings while it was visible, we used to row 
in a small boat a little way from shore, in order to 
see it to greater advantage. Nothing could be more 
poetical than the clear starlit heavens \vith this 
beautiful comet reflected, nay, almost repeated, in 
the calm glassy water of the gulf. The perfect 
silence and stillness of the scene was very impres- 

I was now unoccupied, and felt the necessity of 
having something to do, desultory reading being in- 
suflicient to interest me ; and as I had always con- 
sidered the section on chemistry the weakest part of 
the connection of the "Physical Sciences," I resolved 
to write it anew. My daughters strongly opposed this, 
saying, " Why not write a new book ? " They were 
right ; it would have been lost time : so I followed 
their advice, though it was a formidable undertakiug 
at my age, considering that the general character of 
science had greatly changed. By the impro^'ed 
state of the microscope, an invisible creation in thu 
air, the earth, and the water, had been brought 
within the limits of human vision ; the microscopic 
structure of plants and animals had been minutely 
studied, and by synthesis many substances had boon 
formed of the elementary atoms similar to those 

JMicroscopic Science. 


produced by nature. Dr. Tyndall's experiments had 
proved the inconceivable minuteness of tlie atoms 
of matter; M. Gassiot and Professor Pliiclier bad 
published their experiments on the stratification of 
the electric light ; and that series of discoveries by 
scientific men abroad, but chiefly by our OAvn 
j)hilosophers at home, which had been in progress 
for a course of years, "prepared the way for Bunsen 
and Kirchhof's marvellous consummation. 

Such was the field opened to me ; but instead of 
being discouraged by its magnitude, I seemed to 
have resumed the perseverance and energy of my 
youth, and began to write with courage, though I 
did not think I should live to finish even the sketch 
I had made, and which I intended to publish under 
the name of " Molecular and Microscopic Science," 
and assumed as my motto, " Deus magnus in mag- 
nis, maximus in minimis," from Saint Augustin. 

My manuscript notes on Science were now of the 
greatest use ; and we went for the winter to Turin 
(1861 — 1862), where I could get books from the 
public libraries, and much 'information on subjects of 
natm-al history from Professor De Filippi, who has 
recently died, much regretted, while on a scientific 
mission to Japan and China, as well as from other 
sources. I subscribed to various periodicals on 
chemical and other branches of science; the trausac- 


Mary Somcrville. 

tions of several of our societies were sent to me, and 
I began to write. I was now an old woman, very- 
deaf and with shaking hands ; but I could still see 
to thread the finest needle, and read the finest print, 
but I got sooner tired when writing than I used to 
do. I wrote regularly every morning from eight till 
twelve or one o'clock before rising. I was not 
alone, for I had a mountain sparrow, a great pet, 
Avliich sat, and indeed is sitting on my arm as I write 
these lines. 

The Marchese Doria has a large property at S23ezia, 
and my dear friend Teresa Doria generally spent the 
evening with us, when she and I chatted and played 
Bezique together. Her sons also came frequently, 
and some of the ofiicers of the Itahan navy. One 
who became our very good friend is Captain William 
Acton, now Admiral, and for two years Minister of 
Marine ; he is very handsome, and, what is better, a 
most agreeable, accomphshed gentleman, who has 
interested himself in many branches of natural his- 
tory, besides being a good linguist. In summer the 
British squadron, commanded by Admiral Smart, 
came for five weeks to Spezia. My nephew, Henry 
Fairfax, was commander on board the ii-onclad 
"Resistance." Notwithstanding my age, I was so 
curious to see an ironclad that I went all over the 
"Resistance," even to the engine-room and screw- 

On Board a Flag-Ship. 333 

alley. I also went to luncheon on board the flag- 
ship "Victoria," a three-decker, which put me in 
mind of olden times. 

[The following extracts are from letters of my mother's, 
written in 1863 and 1865 : — 


Spezia, AWi May, 1863. 

How happy 'yom* last letter has made me, my 
dearest Woronzow, to hear that yon are makmg real pro- 
gress, and that you begin to feel better from the Bath 

waters Of your general health I had the verj^ 

best account tliis morning from your friend Colonel 
Gordon. I was most agreeably suxprised and gratified 
by a very kind and interesting letter from him, enclosing 
his photograph, and givhig me an account of his great 
works at Portsmouth with reference to the defence by 
iron as well as stone 

I wish I could show you the baskets full of flowers 
which Martha and Mary bring to me from the mountahis. 
They are wonderfully beautiful ; it is one of my greatest 
amusements putting them in water. I quite regret 
when they cannot go for them. The orchises and the 
gladioles are the chief flowers now, but such a variety 
and such colours ! You see we have our quiet plea- 
sures. I often thuili of more than " 60 years ago," when 
I used to scramble over the Bin at Burntisland after 
our tods-taUs and leddies-fingers, but I fear there is 
hardly a wild spot existing now in the lowlands of 

God bless you, my dearest Woronzow. 


Mary Somerville. 


Spezia, 2Wi Sept., 1865. 

My dearest Woronzow, 

I fear Agnes and j^ou must have thought your 
okl mother had gone mad when yoii read M.'s letter. 
In my sober senses, however, though sufl&ciently excited 
to give me strength for the time, I went over every jiart 
of the Resistance * and examined everything m detail 
except the stokehole ! I was not even hoisted on hoard, 
hut mounted the companion-ladder bravely. It was a 
glorious sight, the perfection of structui-e in eveiy part 
astonished me. A shij) like that is the triumph of human 
talent and of British talent, for all confess oiu' sujie- 
v'loij in this respect to every other nation, and I am 
happy to see that no jealousy has arisen from the meet- 
ing of the French and English fleets. I was proud that 
our " young admiral " t had the command of so fine a 
vessel .... I also spent a most agreeable day on board 
the Victoria, three-decker, and saw every part of the thi'ee 
decks, which are very different from what they were in 
my father's time ; everything on a much larger scale, more 
elegant and convenient. But the greatest change is in the 
men; I never saw a finer set, so gentlemanly-looking 
and well-behaved ; almost all can read and write, and 
they have an excellent librarj'- and reading-room in all 
the ships. No sooner was the fleet gone than the 
Italian Society of Natural History held their annual 

* The Itesistance, ironclad, commanded by Captain Cliamberlaj-ne, 
then absent on sick leave. 

t Captain Hem-y Fairfax, my mother's nephew, then Commander on 
board the Hcsistancc, senior officer in the absence of the captain. 



meeting here, Capellini* being president in tlie absence (in 
Borneo) of Giacomo Doria, There were altogether seventy 
members, Italian, French, and German. I was chosen an 
Associate b.y acclamation, and had to Avrite a few lines of 
thanks. The weather was beautiful and the whole party 
dined every day on the terrace below our -windows, which 
was very amusing to Miss Campbell and your sisters, 
who distinctly heard the speeches. I was invited to dinner the mfe of the celebrated Professor Vogt was asked 
to meet me ; I declined dining, as it lasted so long that 
I should have been too tired, but I went down to the 
dessert. Capellini came for me, and all rose as I came 
in, and every attention was shown me, my health was 
drank, &c. &c. It lasted fom- days, and we had many 
evening visits, and I received a quantity of papers on all 
subjects. I am worlcing very hard (for me at least), but 
I cannot hurry, nor do I see the need for it. I write 
so slowly on account of the shaking of my hand that 
although my head is clear I make little but steady 


Your affectionate mother, 

Mary Somerville. 

After tlie battle of Aspromonte, Garibaldi arrived 
a prisoner on board a man-of-war, and was placed at 
Varignano under surveillance. His wound had not 
been properly dressed, and lie was in a state of great 
suffering. Many surgeons came from all parts of Italy, 
and one even from England, to attend liim, but the 

* Professor of Geology at Bologna. 


Mary Somerville. 

eminent Professor Nekton saved him from amputa- 
tion, with which he was threatened, by extractmg 
the bullet from his ankle. I never saw G-aribalcli 
during his three months' residence at Yarignano and 
Spezia ; I had no previous acquaintance with him ; 
consequently, as I could be of no use to him, I did 
not consider myself entitled to intrude upon him 
merely to gratify my own curiosity, although no 
one admired his noble and disinterested character 
more than I did. Not so, many of my country- 
men, and countrywomen too, as well as ladies of 
other nations, who worried the poor man out of 
his life, and made themselves eminently ridicu- 
lous. One lady went so far as to collect the hairs 
from his comb, — others showered tracts upon him. 
I Lad hitherto been very healthy ; but in the 
>^ beginning of winter I was seized with a severe 

illness which, though not immediately dangerous, 
lasted so long, that it was doubtful whether I 
should have stamina to recover. It was a painful 
and fatiguing time to my daughters. They v.'erc 
" quite worn out with nursing me ; our maid was ill, 
and our man-servant, Luigi Lucchesi, watched me 
with such devotion that he sat up twenty-four nights 
with me. He has been with us eighteen years, and 
now that I am old and feeble, he attends me with 
unceasing kindness. It is but justice to say that 

Italian Servants. 


we never were so faithfully or well served as by- 
Italians ; and none are more ingenious in turning 
their hands to anything, and in never objecting to 
do this or that, as not what they were hired for, — a 
great quality for people who, like ourselves, keep 
few servants. After a time they identify them- 
selves with the family they serve, as my faithful 
Luigi has done with all his heart. I am sincerely 

xittached to him. 


In the spring, when I had recovered, my son and 
his wife came to Spezia, and we all went to Flo- 
rence, where we had the pleasure of seeing many old 
friends. We retm'ned to Spezia, and my son and 
his wife left us to go back to England, intending to 
meet us again somewhere the foUomng spring. I 

little thought we never should meet again 

^ly son sent his sisters a beautiful little cutter, built 
l3y Mr. Forrest in London, which has been a great 
resource to them. I always insist on their taking a 
g'ood sailor with them, although I am not in the 
least nervous for their safety. Indeed, smaU as the 
" Frolic " is — and she is only about twenty-eight 
feet from stem to stern — she has weathered some 
.stiflf gales gallantly, as, for instance, when our friend, 
]Mr, Montague Brown, British consul at Genoa, 
sailed her from Genoa to Spezia in very bad 

338 Mary Somerville. 

weatlier ; and in a very dangerous squall my daugh- 
ters were caught in, coming from Amalfi to Sorrento. 
The " Frolic " had only just arrived at Spezia, when 
we heard of the sudden death of my dear son, Oct., 

' This event, which took from my mother's last j'ears 
one of her chief delights, she bore with her usual 
calm courage, looking forward confidently to a reunion 
at no distant date with one who had been the most 
dutiful of sons and beloved of h'iends. She never per- 
mitted herself, in writing her Eecollections, to refer to 
her feeUngs imder these great sorrows. 

Some time after this, my widowed daughter-in-law 
spent a few months with us. On her return to London, 
I sent the manuscript of the " Molecular and Micro- 
scopic Science with her for publication. In writing 
this book I made a great mistake, and repent it. 
Mathematics are the natui'al bent of my mind. If 
I had dcA'oted myself exclusively to that study, I 
might probably have written something useful, as a 
new era had begun in that science. Altliough I got 
"Chales on the Higher Geometry,'"' it could be but 
a secondary object wliile I was engaged in writing 
a popular book. Subsequently, it became a source 
of deep interest and occupation to me. 



Spezia is very mucli spoilt by tlie works in 
progress for tlie arsenal, thougli nothing can change 
the beauty of the gulf as seen from our windows, 
especially the group of the Carrara mountains, with 
fine peaks and ranges of hills, becoming more and 
more verdant down to the water's edge. The effect 
of the setting-sun on this group is varied and 
brilliant beyond belief. Even I, in spite of my 
shaking hand, resumed the brush, and painted a 
view of the ruined Castle of Ostia, at the mouth of 
the Tiber, from a sketch of my own, for my dear 
friend Teresa Doria. 

AYe now came to live at Naples ; and on leaving 
Spezia, I spent a fortnight with Count and Countess 
Usedom at the Villa Capponi, near Florence, where, 
though unable to visit, I had the pleasure of seeing 
my Florentine friends again. 

AVe spent two days in Eome, and dined with our 
friends the Duca and Duchesa di Sermoneta. We 
were grieved at his blindness, but found him as 
aoreeable as ever. 

Through our friend, Admiral Acton, I became 

acquainted with Professor Panceri, Professor 

of Comparative Anatomy ; Signore de Gasparis, 

who has discovered nine of the minor planets, 

and is an excellent mathematician, and some 

others. To these gentlemen I am indebted for being 

z 2 


Mary Somevville. 

elected an lionorary member of tlie Accademia 

We were miicli interested in Vesuvius, which, for 
several months, was in a state of great activity. 
At first, there Avere only volumes of smoke and 
some small streams of lava, but these were followed 
by the most magnificent projections of red hot 
stones and rocks rising 2,000 feet above the top of 
the mountain. Many fell back again into the crater, 
but a large portion were thrown in fiery showers 
clown the sides of the cone. At length, these 
beautiful eruptions of lapilli ceased, and the lava 
flowed more abundantly, though, being intermittent 
and always issuing from the summit, it was quite 
harmless ; volumes of smoke and vapour rose from 
the crater, and were carried by the wind to a great 
distance. In sunshine the contrast was beautiful, 
between the jet-black smoke and the silvery- white 
clouds of vapour. At length, the mountain re- 
turned to apparent tranquillity, though the violent 
detonations occasionally heard gave warning that 
the calm might not last long. At last, one evening, 
in November, 1868, when one of my daughters and 
I were observing the mountain through a very 
good telescope, lent us by a friend, we distinctly saw 
a new crater burst out at the foot of the cone in the 
Atrio del Cavallo, and bursts of red-hot lapilli and 

Eruption of VesiLvms. 


red smoke pouring fortli in volumes. Earlj next 
morning we saw a great stream of lava pouring 
down to tlie north of the Observatory, and a column 
of black smoke issuing from the new craters, be- 
cause there were two, and assuming the well-known 
appearance of a pine-tree. The trees on the northern 
edge of the lava were already on fire. The stream 
of lava very soon reached the plain, where it 
overwhelmed fields, vineyards, and houses. It was 
more than a mile in width and thirty feet deep. 
My daughters went up the mountain the evening 
after the new craters were formed ; as for me, I 
could not risk the fatigue of such an excursion, but 
T saw it admirably from our own windows. During 
this year the volcanic forces in the interior of the 
earth were in unusual activity, for a scries of earth- 
quakes shook the west coast of South America for 
more than 2,500 miles, by which many thousands of 
tlie inhabitants perished, and many more Averc 
rendered homeless. Slight shocks were felt in many 
parts of Europe, and even in England. Vesuvius 
was our safety- valve. The pressure must have been 
very great which opened two new craters in the Atrio 
del Cavallo and forced out such a mass of matter. 
There is no evidence that water had been concerned 
in the late eruption of Vesuvius ; but during the 
whole of the preceding autumn, the fall of rain had 


Mary Somerville. 

been unusually great and continuous. There were 
frequent tliunder-storms ; and, on one occasion, the 
quantity of rain that fell was so great, as to cause 
a land-slip in Pizzifalcone, by which several houses 
were overwhelmed ; and, on another occasion, the 
torrent of rain was so violent, that the Eiviera di 
Chiaja was covered, to the depth of half a metre, 
with mud, and stones brought down by the water 
from the heights above. This enormous quantity of 
water pouring on the slopes of Vesuvius, and per- 
colatins; through the crust of the earth into the 
fiery caverns, where volcanic forces are generated, 
being resolved into steam, and possibly aided by the 
expansion of volcanic gases, may have been a partial 
agent in propelling the formidable stream of lava 
which, has caused such destruction. We observed, 
that when lava abounded, the projection of rocks 
and lapilli either ceased altogether, or became of 
small amount. The whole eruption ended in a 
shower of impalpable ashes, which hid the moun- 
tain for many days, and which were carried to a 
great distance by the wind. Sometimes the ashes 
were pure white, giving the mountain the appear- 
ance of being covered with snow. Vapour con- 
tinued to rise from Vesuvius in beautiful silvery 
clouds, which ceased and left the edge of the crater 
white with sublimations. I owe to Vesuvius the 

High Temperature. 


great pleasure of making the acquaintance of JMr. 
Phillips, Professor of Geology in the University of 
Oxford ; and, afterwards, that of Sir John Lubbock, 
■and Professor Tyndall, who had come to Naples ou 
purpose to see the eruption. Unfortunately, Sii* 
John Lubbock and Professor Tyndall were so 
limited for time, that they could only spend one 
evening with us ; but I enjoyed a delightful evening, 
and had much scientific conversation. 

Notwithstanding the progress meteorology has 
made since it became a subject of exact observation, 
yet no explanation has been given of the almost un- 
precedented high summer temperature of 1868 in 
Oreat Britain, and even in the Arctic regions. In 
England, the grass and heather were dried up, and 
■extensive areas were set on fire by sparks from rail- 
way locomotives, the conflagrations spreading so 
rapidly, that they could only be arrested by cutting- 
trenches to intercept their course. The whalers 
found open water to a higher latitude than usual ; 
but, although the British Government did not avail 
themselves of this opportunity for further Arctic dis- 
covery, Sweden, Germany, France, and especially 
the United States, have taken up the subject mtli 
.great energy. Eight expeditions sailed for the North. 
Polar region between the years 1868 and 1870; 
several for the express purpose of reaching the 


Mary Soiuerville. 

Polar Sea, wliicli, I have no doubt, will be attained, 
now that steam has given such poAver to penetrate 
the fields of floating ice. It would be more than a 
dashing exploit to make a cruise on that unknown 
sea ; it would be a discovery of vast scientific im- 
portance with regard to geography, magnetism, tem- 
perature, the general circulation of the atmosphere 
and oceans, as well as to natural history. I cannot 
but regret that I shall not live to hear the result of 
these voyages. 


The British laws are adverse to women ; and we- 
are deeply indebted to Mr. Stuart IMill for daring 
to show their iniquity and injustice. The law in the 
United States is in some respects even worse, in- 
sulting the sex, by granting sufirage to the newly- 
emancipated slaves, and refusing it to the most 
highly-educated women of the Republic. 

[For the noble character and transcendent intellect of 
Mr. J. S. Mill niy mother had the greatest admiration. 
She had some correspondence with him on the subject of 
the petition to Parliament for the extension of the suf- 
frage to women, which she signed ; and she also wrote to 
thank him warmly for Ms book on the " Subjection of 
"Women." In Mr. Mill's reply to the latter he says : — 

Letter from Mill. 



Blackheath Paek, Jvly 12th, 1869. 

Dear Madam, 

Such a letter as yours is a sufficient reward 
for tlie trouble of writing the little book. I could have 
desired no better proof that it was adapted to its purpose 
than such an encouraging opinion from j'ou. I thank 
jou heartily' for taking the trouble to express, in such 
kind terms, your api^robation of the book, — the approba- 
tion of one who has rendered such inestimable service to 
the cause of women by aifording in her own person so 
high an example of their intellectual capabiHties, and, 
finally, by giving to the jirotest in the great Petition of 
last 3'ear the weight and importance derived from the 
signature which headed it. 

I am, 

Dear Madam, 
Most sincerely and resjiectfuUy yom's, 

J. S. Mill. 

Age has not abated my zeal for the emanci23ation 
of my sex from the mireasonable prejudice too 
prevalent in Great Britain against a literary and 
scientific education for Avomen. The French arc 
more civilized in this respect, for they have taken 
the lead, and have given the first example in modern 
times of encouragement to the high intellectual 
culture of the sex. Madame Emma Chenu, wlio 
had received the degree of Master of Arts from 


Mary Somerville. 

the Accadcmy of Sciences in Paris, lias more re- 
cently received the diploma of Licentiate in Mathe- 
matical Sciences from the same illustrious Society, 
after a successful examination in algebra, tiio-o- 
nometry, analytical geometry, the differential and 
integral calculi, and astronomy. A Eussian lady 
has also taken a degree; and a lady of my ac- 
quaintance has received a gold medal from the same 

I joined in a petition to the Senate of London 
University, praying that degrees might be gTanted 
to women ; but it was rejected. I have also fre- 
quently signed petitions to Parliament for the 
Female Suffrage, and have the honour now to be a 
member of the Geueral Committee for Woman 
Suffrage in London. 


[My mothei', in alhicliiig to the great changes in pubHc 
opinion which she liad lived to see, used to remark that 
a commonly well-iuformed woman of the present day 
would have been looked upon as a prodigj'- of learnmg in 
her youth, and that even till quite latel^y many considered 
that if women were to receive the solid education men 
enjoy, thej^ would forfeit much of their femmme gTace 
and become unfit to perform their domestic duties. My 
mother herself Avas one of the brightest examples of the 
fallacy of this old-world theory, for no one was more 
thoroughly and gracefully feminine than she was, both in 

Claims of Women. 


manner and appearance ; and, as I liave ali-eady men- 
tioned, no amoinit of scientific labour ever induced lier to 
neglect her home duties. She took the liveliest interest in 
all that has been done of late years to extend high class 
education to women, both classical and scientific, and 
hailed the establishment of tlie Ladies' College at Girton 
as a great step in the true direction, and one wlucli could 
not fail to obtain most important results. Her scientific 
library, as ah-eady stated, has been presented to this 
College as the best fulfilment of her Avishes. 

^ ^ ^ ^ 

I have lately entered my 89tli year, grateful to 
God for tlie inimmerable blessiiio-s He Las bestowed 
on me and my children ; at peace with all on earth, 
and I trust that I may be at peace with my Maker 
when my last hour comes, which cannot now be far 

Although I have been tried by many severe 
afflictions, my life upon the whole has been 
happy. In my youth I had to contend Avitli 
prejudice and illiberality ; yet I was of a quiet 
temper, and easy to live with, and I never 
interfered witli or pryed into other people's 
affairs. However, if irritated by what I considered 
imjust criticism or interference with myself, or any 
one I loved, I could resent it fiercely. I was not 
good at argument ; I was apt to lose my temper ; but 
I never bore ill will to any one, or forgot the manners 


Maiy Some7'ville. 

of a gentlewoman, however angry I may have been 
at the time. But I must say that no one ever met 
with such kindness as I have done. I never had an 
enemy. I have never been of a melancholy dis- 
position ; though depressed sometimes by circum- 
stances, I always rallied again ; and although I 
seldom laugh, I tan laugh heartily at A\it or on fit 
occasion. The short time I have to live naturally 
occupies my thoughts. In the blessed hope of meet- 
ing again with my beloved children, and those who 
were and are dear to me on earth, I think of death 
with composure and perfect confidence in the mercy 
of God. Yet to me, Avho am afraid to sleep alone 
on a -stormy night, or even to sleep comfortably any 
night unless some one is near, it is a fearful thought, 
that my spirit must enter that new state of exist- 
ence quite alone. We are told of the infinite 
glories of that state, and I believe in them, though 
it is incomprehensible to us ; but as I do compre- 
hend, in some degree at least, the exquisite loveli- 
ness of the visible world, I confess I shall be sorry 
to leave it. I shall regret the sky, the sea, with all 
the changes of their beautiful colouring ; the earth, 
Avith its verdure and flowers : but far more shall I 
grieve to leave animals who have followed our steps 
affectionately for years, Avitliout knowing for cer- 
tainty their ultimate fate, though I firmly believe 



that tlie living principle is never extinguished. Since 
the atoms of matter are indestructible, as far as we 
know, it is difficult to believe that the spark which 
gives to their union life, memory, affection, intelli- 
gence, and fidelity, is evanescent. Every atom in 
the human frame, as well as in that of animals, 
undergoes a periodical change by continual waste 
and renovation ; the abode is changed, not its in- 
habitant. If animals have no future, the existence 
of many is most wretched ; multitudes are starved, 
cruelly beaten, and loaded during life; many die 
under a barbarous vivisection. I cannot believe that 
any creature Avas created for uncompensated misery ; 
it would be contrary to the attributes of God's 
mercy and justice. I am sincerely hajDpy to find 
that I am not the only believer in the immortality 
of the lower animals. 

When I was taught geography by the village 
schoolmaster at Burntisland, it seemed to me that 
half the world was terra incognita, and now that a 
new edition of my " Physical Geography " is re- 
quired, it will be a Avork of great labour to bring it 
up to the present time. The discoveries in South 
Afiica alone would fill a volume. Japan and China 
have been opened to Europeans since my last 
edition. The great continent of Australia was an 


Mary Somerville. 

entirely unknown country, except part of the coast 
Now telegrams have been sent and answers received 
in the course of a few hours, from our countrymen 
throughout that mighty empire, and even from 
New Zealand, round half the globe. The inhabitants 
of the United States are our offspring ; so whatever 
may happen to Great Britain in the course of events, 
it still will have the honour of colonizinsj, and con- 
sequently civilizing, half the world. 

In all recent geographical discoveries, our Eoyal 
Geographical Society has borne the most important 
part, and none of its members have done more than 
my highly-gifted friend the President, Sir Eoderick 
jMurchison, geologist of Eussia, and founder and 
author of the colossal " Silurian System," To the 
affection of this friend, sanctioned by the unanimous 
approval of the council of that illustrious Society, I 
owe the honour of being awarded the Victoria Medal 
for my " Physical Geography." An honour so un- 
expected, and so far beyond my merit, surprised and 
affected me more deeply than I can find words to 

In the events of my life it may be seen hoAv 
much I have been honoured by the scientific 
societies and universities of Italy, many of whom 
have elected me an honorary member or associate ; 
but the greatest honour I have received in Italy has 

Letter from Menabrea. 


been the gift of the first gold medal hitherto 
awarded by the Geographical Society at Florence, 
and which was coined on purpose, with my name 
on the reverse. I received it the other day, accom- 
panied by the following letter from General Mena- 
brea, President of the Council, himself a distin- 
guished mathematician and philosopher : — 


Flokexce, 30 JvAn, 1869. 


J'ai pris connaissance avec le pkxs gTaiid interet de 
la belle edition de votre dernier ouA-rage surla Geographie 
PliA'sique, et je desire vous donner iin tenioignage d'haiite 
estime pour vos travaux. Je vous prie done, Madame, 
d'accepter nne medaille d'or a Teffigie du Eoi Victor 
Emmanuel, mon auguste souverain. C'est un souvenir 
de mon pays dans lequel tous comptez, comme cliez 
toutes les nations ou la science est honore, de nombreux 
amis et admirateurs. Veuillez croire, Madame, que je 
ne cesserai d'etre I'un et I'autre en mume temps que je 

Votre tres devoue Servlteiu-, 


At a general assembly of the Italian G eographical 
Society, at Florence, on the 14th March, 1870, I 
was elected by acclamation an Honorary Associate of 
that distinguished society. I am indebted to the 
President, the Commendatore Negri, for having pro- 


Mary Sojnerville. 

posed my name, and for a very kind letter, in- 
forming me of the honour conferj-ed upon me. 

■5^ % % ^ -Jtc 

I have still (in 1869) the habit of studjdng in 
bed from eight in the morning till twelve or one 
o'clock ; but, I am left solitary ; for I have lost my 
little bird who was my constant companion for eight 
years. It had both memory and intelligence, and 
such confidence in me as to sleep upon my arm 
while I was writing. My daughter, to whom it 
was much attached, coming into my room early, 
was alarmed at its not flying to meet her, as it 
generally did, and at last, after a long search, the 
poor little creature was found drowned in the jug. 

On the 4th October, while at dinner, we had a 
shock of earthquake. The vibrations were nearly 
north and south ; it lasted but a few seconds, and 
was very shght ; but in Calabria, &c., many ^dllages 
and towns were overthrown, and very many people 
perished. The shocks were repeated again and 
again ; only one was felt at Naples ; but as it 
occurred in the night, we were unconscious of it. 
At Naples, it was believed there would be an 
eruption of Vesuvius ; for the smoke Avas particu- 
larly dense and black, and some of the wells were 
dried up. 



I can scarcely believe that Kome, where I have 
spent so many happy years, is now the capital of 
united Italy. I heartily rejoice in that glorious ter- 
mination to the vicissitudes the country has under- 
gone, and only regret that age and infirmity prevent 
me from going to see Victor Emmanuel triumphantly 
enter the capital of his Idngdom. The Pope's reliance 
on foreign troops for his safety was an unpardon- 
able insult to his countrymen. 

* * * * * 

The month of October this year (1870), seems to 
have been remarkable for displays of the Aurora 
Borealis. It seriously interfered with the working 
of the telegraphs, particularly in the north of Eng- 
land and Ireland. On the night of the' 24th Oc- 
tober, it was seen over the greater part of Europe. 
At Florence, the common people were greatly 
alarmed, and at Naples, the peasantry were on their 
Icnees to the Madonna to avert the evil. Unfortu- 
nately, neither I nor any of my family saw the 
Aurora ; for most of our windows have a southern 
aspect. The frequent occurrence of the Aurora in 
1870 confirms the already known period of maxi- 
mum intensity and frequency, every ten or tM^elve 
years, since the last maximum occurred in 1859. 

A A 



The summer of 1870 was unusually cool; but 
the winter lias been extremely gloomy, with torrents 
of rain, and occasionally such thick fogs, that I 
could see neither to read nor to write. We had no 
storms during the hot weather ; but on the after- 
noon of the 21st December, there was one of the 
finest thunderstorms I ever saw ; the lightning was 
intensely vivid, and took the strangest forms, dart- 
ing in all directions through the air before it struck, 
and sometimes darting from the ground or the sea 
to the clouds. It ended in a deluge of rain, which 
lasted all night, and made us augur ill for the solar 
eclipse next day ; and, sure enough, when I awoke 
next morning, the sky was darkened by clouds and 
rain. Fortunately, it cleared up just as the ecUpse 

The Eclipse ^1870. 


began ; we were all prepared for observing it, and Ave 
followed its progress thi'ough the opening in the clouds 
till at last there was only a very slender crescent of 
the sun's disc left ; its convexity was turned upwards, 
and its horns were nearly horizontal. It was then 
hidden by a dense mass of clouds ; but after a time 
they opened, and I saw the edge of the moon leave 
the limb of the sun. The appearance of the land- 
scape was very lurid, but by no means very dark. 
The common people and children had a very good 
view of the eclipse, reflected by the pools of water 
in the streets. 

Many of the astronomers who had been in Sicily 
observing the eclipse came to see me as they passed 
through Naples. One of their principal objects was 
to ascertain the nature of the corona, or bright white 
rays which surround the dai'k lunar disc at the 
time of the greatest obscurity. The spectroscope 
showed that it was decidedly auroral, but as the 
am'ora was seen on the dark disc of the moon it 
must have been due to the earth's atmosphere. Part 
of the corona was polarized, and consequently must 
have been material ; the question is, Can it be the 
etherial medium ? A question of immense impor- 
tance, since the whole theoiy of light and colours 
and the resistance of Encke's comet depends upon 
that hypothesis. The question is still in abeyance, 

A A 2 


Mary Somerville. 

Lut I have no doubt that it will Ije decided in th& 
affirmative, and that even the cause of gravitation 
will be known eventuall}'-. 

At this time I had the pleasure of a visit from 
Mr. Peirce, Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, 
in the Harvard University, U.S., and Superintendent 
of the U.S. Coast Survey, who had come to Europe 
to observe the eclipse. , On returning to America 
he kindly sent me a beautiful lithographed copy of 
a very profound memoir in linear and associative 
algebra. Although in writing my popular books I 
had somewhat neglected the higher algebra, I have 
read a great part of the Avork ; but as I met with 
some difficulties I Avxote to Mr. Spottiswoode, asking 
his advice as to the books that would be of use, and 
he sent me Serret's " Cours d'Algebre Superieure," 
Salmon's " Higher Algebra," and Tait on "Quater- 
nions ; " so now I got exactly what I wanted, and I 
am very busy for a few hours every morning ; de- 
lighted, to have- an occupation so entirely to my 
mind. I thank God that my intellect is still 
unimpaired. I am grateful to Professor Peii'ce 
for giving me an opportunity of exercising it so 
agreeably. During the rest of the day I have 
recourse to Shakespeare, Dante, and more modern 
light reading, besides the newspapers, which always 
interested me much. I have resumed my habit 



of workino-, and can count the threads of a fine 
canvas without spectacles. I receive every one who 
comes to see me, and often have the pleasure of a 
visit from old friends very unexpectedly. In the 
evening I read a novel, but my tragic days are 
over; I prefer a cheerful conversational novel to 
the sentimental ones. I have recently been 
reading Walter Scott's novels again, and enjoyed 
the broad Scotch in them. I play a few games 
at Bezique "with one of my daughters, for honour 
and glory, and so our evenings pass pleasantly 

It is our habit to be separately occupied during 
the morning, and spend the rest of the day together. 
"We are fond of birds and have several, all very 
tame. Our tame nightingales sing very beautifully, 
but, strange to say, not at night. We have also 
some solitary sparrows, which are, in fiict, a variety 
of the thrush (Turdus cyaneus), r.nd some birds 
which we rescued from destruction in spring, when 
caught and ill-used by the boys in the streets ; 
besides, we have our dogs ; all of which alBFord me 
amusement and interest. 

Mr. Murray has kindly sent me a copy of Darwin's 
recent work on the " Descent of Man." Mr. Darwin 
maintains his theory with great talent and with 


Mary Soinerville. 

profound research. His knowledge of the characters 
and habits of animals of all kinds is great, and 
his kindly feelings charming. It is chiefly by the 
feathered race that he has established his law ,of 
selection relative to sex. I'hci males of many birds 
are among the most beautiful objects in nature ; 
but that the beauty of nature is altogether irrelative 
to man's admu^ation or appreciation, is strikingly 
proved by the admirable sculpture on Diatoms and 
Foraminifera ; beings whose very existence was un- 
known prior to the invention of the microscope. 
The Duke of Argyll has illustrated this in the 
" Reign of Law," by the variety, graceful forms and 
beautiful colouring of the humming l:)ii'ds in forests 
which man has never entered. 

In Mr, Darwin's book it is amusing to see how 
conscious the male birds are of their beaut}^; they have 
reason to be so, but we scorn the vanity of the savage 
who decks himself in their spoils. Many women 
Antliout remorse alloAv the life of a pretty bird to be 
extinguished in order that they may deck themselves 
Avith its corpse. In fact, humming birds and other 
foreign birds have become an article of commerce. 
(Jur kingfishers and many of our other birds are 
on the eve of extmction on account of a cruel 

I have just received from Frances Power Cobbe 

Tyler's Researches. 


an essay, in which she controverts Darwin's theory,* 
so far as the origin of the moral sense is concerned. 
It is written with all the energy of her vigorous 
intellect as a moral philosopher, yet with a kindly 
tribute to Mr. Darwin's genius. I repeat no one 
admires Frances Cobbe more than I do. I have 
ever found her a brilliant, charming companion, 
and a warm, affectionate friend. She is one of 
the few with whom I keep up a correspondence. 

To Mr. Murray I am indebted for a copy of 
Tylor's " Researches on the Early History of Man- 
kind, and the Development of Civilization" — a very 
remarkable work for extent of research, original 
views, and happy illustrations. The gradual pro- 
gress of the pre-historic races of mankind has laid a 
foundation from which Mr. Tylor proves that after 
the lapse of ages the barbarous races now existing 
are decidedly in a state of progress towards civiliza- 
tion. Yet one cannot conceive human beings in a 
more degraded state than some of them are still; their 
women are treated worse than their dogs. Sad to say, 
no savages are more gross than the lowest ranks in 
England, or treat their wives with more cruelty. 

In the course of my life Paris has been twice 
occupied by foreign troops, and still oftener has 

* " Darwinism in Morals," &c. 


Mary Somerville. 

it been in a state of anarchy. I regret to 
see that La Place's house at Arcoeuil has been 
broken into, and his manuscripts thrown into the 
river, from which some one has fortunately rescued 
that of the "M^canique Celeste,'' wliich is in his 
own handwriting. It is greatly to the honour of 
French men of science that during the siege they 
met as usual in the hall of the Institute, and read 
their papers as in the time of peace. The celebrated 
astronomer Janssen even escaped in a balloon, that 
he might arrive in time to observe the eclipse of the 
22nd November, 1870. 


We had a most brilliant display of the Am-ora on 
the evening of Sunday, the 4th February, 1871, 
which lasted several hours. The whole sky from 
east to west was of the most brilliant flickering 
white light, from which streamers of red darted up to 
the zenith. There was also a lunar rainbow. The 
common people were greatly alarmed, for there had 
been a prediction that the world was coming to an 
end, and they thought the bright part of the Aurora 
was a piece of the moon that had already tumbled 
down ! This Aurora was seen in Turkey and in 

I am deeply grieved aaid shaken by the death of 

Herschel's Death. 


Sir John Herschel, who, though ten years younger 
than I am, has gone before me. In him I have lost 
a dear and affectionate friend, whose advice was in- 
valuable, and his society a charm. None but those 
who have lived in his home can imagine the bright- 
ness and happiness of his domestic life. He never 
presumed upon that superiority of intellect or the 
great discoveries which made him one of the most 
illustrious men of the age ; but conversed cheerfully 
and even playfully on any subject, though ever 
ready to give information on any of the various 
branches of science to which he so largely contri- 
buted, and which to him were a source of constant 
happiness. Few of my early friends now remain — I 
am nearly left alone. 


We went to pass the summer and autumn 
at Sorrento, where we led a very quiet but 
happy life. The villa we lived in was at a short 
distance from and above the town, quite buried in 
groves of oranges and lemons, beyond which lay the 
sea, generally calm and blue, sometimes stormy ; to 
our left the islands of Ischia and Procida, the Capo 
Miseno, with Baia, Pozzuoli, and Posilipo ; exactly 
opposite to us, Naples, then Vesuvius, and all the 
little towns on that coast, and lastly, to our right, 
this wonderful panorama was bounded by the fine 

SG:2 Mary Soinerville. 

cliffs of the Monte Santaugelo. It was l^eautiful 
always, but most beautiful ^^4len the sun, setting be- 
hind Ischia, sent a perfect glory over the rippling 
sea, and tinged the Monte Santangelo and the cliffs 
which bound the Piano di Sorrento literally with 
purple and gold. I spent the Avhole day on a 
charming terrace sheltered from the sun, and there 
we dined and passed the evening watching the lights 
of Naples reflected in the water and the revolving 
lights of the different lighthouses. I often drove to 
]\Iassa till after sunset, for from that road I could see 
the island of Capri, and I scarcely know a more 
lovely drive. Besides the books we took Avith us we 
had newspapers, reviews, and other periodicals, so 
that we were never dull. On one occasion my 
daughters and I made an expedition up the hills to 
the Deserto, from whence one can see the Gulf of 
Salerno and the fine mountains of Calabria. My 
daughters rode and I was carried in a 2^ortantino., 
It was fine, clear, autumnal weather, and I enjoyed 
my expedition immensely, nor was I fatigued. 


In November we returned to Naples, where I 
resumed my usual life. I had received a copy of 
Hamilton's Lectures on Quaternions from the Rev. 
Whitewell Elwiii. 1 am not accpiaiuted with that 

Law to Protect Animals. 


gentleman, and am the more grateful to him. I have 
now a valuable library of scientific books and trans- 
actions of scientific societies, the greater part gifts 
from the authors. 

Foreigners were so much shocked at the atrocious 
cruelty to animals in Italy, that an attempt was 
made about eight years ago to induce the Italian 
Parliament to pass a law for their protection, but it 
failed. As Italy is the only civilized country in 
Europe in which animals are not protected by law, 
another attem^^t is now being made ; I have willingly 
given my name, and I received a kind letter from 
the Marchioness of Ely, from Eome, to whom I 
had spoken upon the subject at Naples, telling 
me that the Princess Margaret, Crown Princess 
of Italy, had been induced to head the petition. 
Unless the educated classes take uj) the cause one 
cannot hope for much change for a long time. Our 
friend, Mr. Eobert Hay, who resided at Eome for 
many years, had an old horse of which he was very 
fond, and on leaving Eome asked a Eoman prince, 
who had very large possessions in the Campagna, if 
he would allow his old horse to end his days on his 
grassy meadows. " Certainly," replied the prince, 
" but how can you care what becomes of an animal 
when he is no longer of use V We English cannot 
boast of humanity, however, as long as our sportsmen 


Mary Somerville. 

find pleasure in shooting clown tame pigeons as they 
fly terrified out of a cage. 


I am now in my 92rid year (1872), still able to 
drive out for several hours ; I am extremely deaf, 
and my memory of ordinary events, and especially 
of the names of people, is fading, but not for mathe- 
matical and scientific subjects. I am still able to 
read books on the higher algebra for four or five 
hours in tiie morning, and even to solve the pro- 
blems. Sometimes I find them difficult, but my old 
obstinacy remains, for if I do not succeed to-day, I 
attack them again on the morrow. I also enjoy 
reading about all the new discoveries and theories in 
the scientific world, and on all branches of science. 

Sir Roderick Murchison has passed away, honoured 
by all, and of undying fame ; and my amiable friend, 
almost my contemporary. Professor Sedgwick, has 
been obliged to resign his chair of geology at Cam- 
bridge, from age, which he had filled mth honour 
dming a long life. 

[The following letter from her valued friend Professor 
Sedgwick, in 1869, is the last my mother received from 
him : — 

Professor Sedgwick. 



Cambridge, Afvil i\st, 18G9. 

My dear Mes. Somerville, 

I heard, when I was in London, that you were 
still in good bodily health, and in full fruition of your 
gTeat intellectual strength, wliile breathing the sweet air 
of Naples. I had been a close jjrisoner to my college 
rooms through the past winter and spring ; but I broke 
from my prison-house at the beginning of this month, 
that I might consult my oculist, and meet my niece on 

her way to Italy My niece has for many 

years (ever since 1840) been my loving companion 
durmg my annual turn of residence as canon of Nor- 
wich ; and she is, and from her cliildhood has, been to 
me as a dear daughter. I Imow you will forgive me for 
my anxiety to hear from a Uvmg witness that you are 
well and happy in the closing days of yom- honom-ed life ; 
and for my longmg desire that my beloved daughter (for 
such I ever regard her) should speak to you face to face, 
and see (for however short an interview) the Mrs. Somer- 
ville, of whom I have so often tallied with her in terms 
of honest admii-ation and deep regard. The time for 
the Italian torn- is, alas ! far too shoit. But it will be a 
great gain to each of the party to be allowed, even for a 
short time, to gaze upon the earthly paradise that is 
round about you, and to cast one look over its natural 

wonders and historic monuments Since you 

were here, my dear and honom-ed guest, Cambridge is 
greatly changed. I am left here like a vessel on its beam 
ends, to mark the distance to which the current has 
been drifting during a good many bygone years. I have 


Mary Sometville. 

outlived nearly all my early friends. Whewell, INIaster of 
Trinity, was the last of the old stock who here. 
Herschel has not been here for several years. Babbage 
was here for a day or two during the year before last. 
The Astronomer-Royal belongs to a more recent 
generation. For manj'^ years long attacks of suppressed 
gout have made my life very unproductive. I yesterday 
dined in Hall. It was the first time I was able to meet 
my brother Fellows smce last Christmas day. A long 
attack of bronchitis, followed by a distressing inflamma- 
tion of my eyes, had made me a close piisoner for nearly 
four months. But, thank God, I am agam beginning to be 
cheerj'^, and with many infirmities (the inevitable results 
of old age, for I have entered on my 85th j'ear) I am stiU 
strong in general health, and capable of enjoj'iag, I think 
as much as ever, the society of those whom I love, be 
they young or old. May God preserve and bless you ; 
and whensoever it may be His will to call you away to 
Himself, may your mind be Avithout a cloud and your 
heart full of joj^ul Christian hope ! 
I remain, 

My dear Friend, 
Faithfully and gratefully yom-s, 

Adah Sedgwick. 

After all the violence and bloodshed of the 
preceding year, the Thanksgiving of Queen Victoria 
and the British nation for the recovery of the Prince 
of Wales will form a striking event in European 
history. For it was not the congregation in St. 



Paul's alone, it was the spontaneous gratitude of all 
ranks and all faiths throughout the three kingdoms 
that were offered up to God that morning; the 
people S3niipathized mth tlieir Queen, and no 
sovereign more deserves sympathy. 


Vesuvius has exhibited a considerable activity 
during the winter and early spring, and frequent 
streams of lava flowed from the crater, and especially 
from the small cone to the north, a little way below 
the principal crater. But these streams were small 
and intermittent, and no great outbreak was ex- 
pected. On the 24th April a stream of lava induced 
us to drive in the evening to Santa Lucia. The 
next night, Thursday, 25th April, my daughter 
Martha, who had been to the tlieatre, wakened me 
that I might see Vesuvius in splendid eruption. This 
was at about 1 o'clock on Friday morning. Early 
in the morning I was disturbed by what I thought 
loud thunder, and when my maid came at 7 a.m. I 
remarked that there was a thunder storm, but she 
said, " No, no ; it is the mountain roaring." It must 
have been very loud for me to hear, considering my 
deafness, and the distance Vesuvius is from Naples, 
yet it was nothing compared to the noise later in 
the day, and for many days after. My daughter, 
who had gone to Santa Lucia to see the eruption 


Mary Somei'ville. 

better, soon came to fetcli me with our friend Mr. 
James Swintou, and we passed the whole day at 
windows in an hotel dt Santa Lucia, immediately 
opposite the mountain. Vesuvius was now in the 
fiercest eruption, such as has not occurred in the 
memory of this generation, lava overflowing the 
principal crater and running in all directions. The 
fiery glow of lava is not very visible by daylight ; 
smoke and steam is sent off which rises white as 
snow, or rather as frosted silver, and the mouth of 
the great crater was white with the lava pouring- 
over it. New craters had burst out the preceding- 
night, at the very time I was admiring the beauty 
of the eruption, little dreaming that, of many people 
who had gone up that night to the Atrio del CavaUo 
to see the lava (as my daughters had done repeatedly 
and especially during the great eruption of 1868), 
some forty or fifty had been on the very spot where 
the new crater burst out, and perished, scorched to 
death by the fiery vapours which eddied from the 
fearful chasm. Some were rescued who had been 
less near to the chasm, but of these none eventually 

Behind the cone rose an immense column of dense 
black smoke to more than four times the height of 
the mountain, and spread out at the summit hori- 
zontally, lil^e a pine tree, above the silvery stream 

Great Ertiption. 


wMcli poured forth in volumes. There were constant 
bursts of fiery projectiles, shooting to an immense 
height into the black column of smoke, and tinging 
it with a lurid red colour. The fearful roaring and 
thunderiug never ceased for one moment, and the 
house shook with the concussion of the air. One 
stream of lava flowed towards Torre del Greco, but 
luckily stopped before it reached the cultivated fields; 
others, and the most dangerous ones, since some of 
them came from the new craters, poured down the 
Atrio del Cavallo, and dividing before reaching the 
Observatory flowed to the right and to the left — the 
stream which flowed to the north very soon reached 
the plain, and before night came on had partially 
destroyed the small town of Massa di Somma. One 
of the peculiarities of this eruption was the great 
fluidity of the lava ; another was the never-ceasing 
thundering of the mountain. During that day we ob- 
served several violent explosions in the great stream 
£)f lava : we thought from the enormous volumes of 
black smoke emitted on these occasions that new 
craters had burst out — some below the level of the 
Observatory ; but that can hardly have been the 
case. My daughters at night drove to Portici, 
and went up to the top of a house, where the noise 
seems to have been appalling ; but they told me they 
did not gain anything by going to Portici, nor 

13 B 


Mary Somervillc. 

did tliey see the eruption better than I did who 
remained at Santa Lucia, for you get too much be- 
low the mountain on going near. Ou Sunday, 28th, 
I was surprised at the extreme darkness, and on 
looking out of window saw men walking ^dth 
umbrellas ; Vesuvius was emitting such an enormous 
quantity of ashes, or rather fine black sand, that 
neither land, sea, nor sky was visible ; the fall was 
a little less dense during the day, but at night 
it was worse than ever. Strangers seemed to be 
more alarmed at this than at the eruption, and 
certainly the constant loud roaring of Vesuvius 
was appalling enough amidst the darkness and 
gloom of the falling ashes. The raiboad was 
crowded with both natives and foreigners, escaping ; 
on the other hand, crowds came from Eome to see 
the eruption. We were not at aU afraid, for we con- 
sidered that the danger was past when so great an 
eruption had acted as a kind of safety-valve to the 
pent-up vapours. But a silly report got about 
that an earthquake was to take place, and many 
persons passed the night in driving or walking 
about the town, avoiding narrow streets. The 
mountain was quite veiled for some days by vapour 
and ashes, but I could see the black smoke and 
silvery mass above it. While looking at this, a 
magnificent column, black as jet, darted with incon- 

Effects of the Eruption. 


ceivable violence and velocity to an immense height ; 
it gave a grand idea of the power that was still in 
miction ia the fiery caverns below. 

Immense injuiy has been done by this eruption, 
^nd much more would have been done had not the 
lava flowed to a great extent over that of 1868. 
Still the streams ran through Massa di Somma, San 
Sebastiano, and other villages scattered about the 
country, overwhelming fields, woods, vineyards, and 
houses. The ashes, too, have not only destroyed 
this year's crops, but killed both vines and fruit 
trees, so that altogether it has been most disastrous, 
Vesuvius was involved in vapour and ashes till far 
on ia May, and one afternoon at sunset, when all 
below was in shade, and only a few silvery threads of 
steam were visible, a column of the most beautiful 
crimson colom- rose from the crater, and floated in 
the am Many of the small craters still smoked, 
one c[uite at the base of the cone, which is a good 
deal changed — it is lower, the small northern cone 
has disappeared, and part of the walls of the crater 
have fallen in, and there is a fissure in them through 
which smoke or vapour is occasionally emitted. 

On the 1st June we retm^ned to Sorrento, this 
time to a pretty and cheerful apartment close to the 
sea, where I led very much the same pleasant life as 


Mary Somerville. 

tlie year before — ^busy in tlie morning witli my own 
studies, and passing the rest of the day on the 
terrace with my daughters, who brought me beauti- 
ful wiki flowers from their excm^sions over the 
country. Many of the flowers they brought were 
new to me, and it is a curious fact that some plants 
which did not grow in this part of the country a 
few years ago are now quite common. Amongst 
others, the Trachelium coeruleum, a pretty wall-plant, 
native of Calabria, and formerly unknown here, 
now clothes many an old wall near Naples, and at 
Sorrento. The ferns are extremely beautiful here. 
Besides those common to England, thePteris cretica 
grows luxuriantly in the damp ravines, as well as 
that most beautiful of European ferns, the Wood- 
wardia radicans, whose fronds are often more than 
six feet long. The inhabitants of Sorrento are very 
superior to the Neapolitans, both in looks and 
character ; they are cleanly, honest, less cruel to 
animals, and have pleasant manners — neither too 
familiar nor cringing. As the road between Sor- 
rento and Castellamare was impassable, owing to 
the fall of immense masses of rock from the clifis 
above it, we crossed over in the steamer with 
our servants and our pet birds, for I now have 
a beautiful long-tailed parroquet called Smeraldo, 
who is my constant companion and is very familiar 

Protection of Birds. 


And here I must mention how much I was pleased 
to hear that Mr. Herbert, M.P., has brought in a 
bill to protect land birds, which has been passed in 
Parliament ; but I am grieved to find that " The 
lark Avhich at Heaven's gate sings " is thought un- 
worthy of man's protection. Among the numerous 
plans for the education of the young, let us hope 
that mercy may be taught as a part of religion. 
^ ^ •it 

Though far advanced in years, I take as lively an 
interest as ever in passing events. I regret that I 
shall not live to know the result of the expedition to 
determine the currents of the ocean, the distance of 
the earth from the sun determined by the transits of 
Venus, and the source of the most renomied of 
rivers, the discovery of which will immortalise the 
name of Dr. Livingstone. But I regret most of all 
that I shall not see the suppression of the most 
atrocious system of slavery that ever disgraced 
humanity — that made known to the world by Dr. 
Li^dngstone and by. Mr. Stanley, and which Sir 
Bartle Frere has gone to suppress by order of the 
British Government. 

The Blue Peter has been long flying at my fore- 
mast, and now that I am in my ninety-second year 
1 must soon expect the signal for sailing. It is a 


Mary Somerville. 

solemn voyage, but it does not disturb my tran- 
quillity. Deeply sensible of my utter unworthiness, 
and profoundly grateful for tbe innumerable bless- 
ings I have received, I trust in the infinite mercy of 
my Almighty Creator. I have every reason to be 
thankful that my intellect is still unimpaired, and, 
although my strength is weakness, my daughters 
support my tottering steps, and, by incessant care 
find help, make the infirmities of age so hght to me 
that I am perfectly happy. 

I HAVE very little more to add to these last words of 
my Mother's Eecollections. The preceding pages will 
have given the reader some idea — albeit perhaps a very 
imperfect one — of her character and opinions. Only 
regarding her feelings on the most sacred of themes, is it 
needful for me to say a few words. My mother was pro- 
fomidly and sincerelj^ religious ; hers was not a rehgion 
of mere forms and doctrines, but a solemn deeji-rooted 
faith which influenced everj^ thought, and regulated every 
action of her life. Great love and reverence towards God 
was the foundation of this pure faith, which accompanied 
her from youth to extreme old age, indeed to her last 
moments, which gave her strength to endure many sor- 
rows, and was the mainspring of that extreme humilit}'- 
which was so remarkable a feature of her character. 

At a very eai'ly age she dared to thmk for herself, fear- 

Relinous Feelings. 


lessly shaking off those doctrines of her early creed which 
seemed to her incompatible Avith the miutterable goodness 
and greatness of God ; and thi-ough life she adhered to 
her simple faith, holding quietly and resolutely to the 
ultimate truths of religion, regardless alilve of the censure 
of bigots or the smiles of sceptics. The theories of 
modern science she welcomed as quite ia accordance 
with her religious opinions. She rejected the notion 
of occasional interference by the Creator with His 
work, and believed that from the first and invariably 
He has acted according to a system of harmonious laws, 
some of which we are beginning faintly to recognise, 
others of which will be discovered ui course of time, while 
many must remain a mystery to man wliile he inhabits this 
world. It was in her early life that the controversy 
raged respecting the incompatibility of the Mosaic ac- 
coimt of Creation, the Deluge, &c., with the revelations 
of geologj'. My mother very soon accepted the modern 
theories, seeing in them nothing in any way hostile to 
true rehgious beUef. It is singular to recall that her 
candid avowal of views now so common, caused her 
to be publicly censured by name from the pulpit of 
York Cathedi'al. She foresaw the great modifications 
in opinion which further discoveries will inevitably 
produce ; but she foresaw them without doubt or fear. 
Her constant i?ra)^er was for light and truth, and 
its full accomplishment she looked for confidently in 
the life beyond the grave. My mother never discussed 
religious subjects in general society; she considered them 
far too solemn to be talked of lightly; but with those 
near and dear to her, and with very intimate friends,, 
whose opinion agreed with her own, she spoke freely 
and willingly. Her mind was constantly occupied mtk 


Mary Somerville. 

thoughts on religion; and in her last years especially she 
reflected much on that future world which she expected 
soon to enter, and lifted her heart still more frequently 
to that good Father whom she had loved so fervently 
all her life, and in whose merciful care she fearlessly 
trusted in her last horn-. 

My mother's old age was a thoroughly happy one. She 
often said that not even in the joyous spring of life had 
she been more truly happy. Serene and cheeiful, full 
of life and activity, as far as her physical strength 
jiermitted, she had none of the infirmities of age, except 
difficulty in hearing, which prevented her fi-om joining 
in general conversation. She had always been near- 
sighted, but could read small print with the gTeatest 
ease without glasses, even b}'- lamp-light. To the last her 
intellect remained perfectly unclouded ; her affection for 
those she loved, and her sympathy for all living beings, 
as fervent as ever ; nor did her ardent desire for and 
belief in the ultimate religious and moral improvement 
of mankind diminish. She always retained her habit of 
study, and that pursuit, in which she had attained such ex- 
cellence and which was always the most congenial to her, 
— Mathematics — delighted and amused her to the end. 
Her last occupations, continued to the actual day of her 
death, were the revision and completion of a treatise, 
which she had written years before, on the " Theor}^ 
of Differences" (with diagrams exquisitely di'awn), and 
the study of a book on Quaternions. Though too 
religious to fear death, she dreaded outliving her intel- 
lectual powers, and it was with intense delight that she 
pursued her intricate calculations after her ninetieth 
and ninety-fu'st years, and repeatedly told me how she 
rejoiced to find that she had the same readiness and 

Her Death, .077 

facility iii comprehending and developing these ex- 
tremely difficult formulae which she possessed when young. 
Often, also, she said how grateful she was to the 
Almighty Father who had allowed her to retain her 
faculties unimpaii-ed to so great an age. God was indeed 
loving and merciful to her ; not only did He spare her 
this calamity, but also the weary trial of long-contuiued 
illness. In health of body and vigour- of mind, having 
lived far beyond the usual span of human life, He called 
her to Himself. For her Death lost all its terrors. Her 
piu'e spirit j)assed away so gently that those around her 
scarcely perceived when she left them. It was the beauti- 
ful and painless close of a noble and a happy life. 

My mother died in sleep on the mommg of the 29th 
Nov., 1872. Her remains rest in the English Campo 
Santo of Naples. 



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